Lockheed Martin engineer inspires local AAUW scholars

Courtesy of Allyson Johnson
The American Association of University Women’s Tech Trek Scholars include, from left, Aliyah Ambrosio and Malia Chan from Crittenden Middle School; Sara Simpson from Blach Intermediate School; Burla Solmaz from Crittenden; and Audrey Tsai, Catherine Yao and Sabrina Yen-Ko from Egan Junior High. Not pictured: Paulina Vvendenskaya from Blach.

Annette Bianco, retired chief systems engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., shared her journey from earning an Associate of Arts degree from the College of San Mateo to a leading role in developing the International Space Station with an overflow audience of girls and their families at an American Association of University Women meeting May 5.

Bianco was the featured speaker at a luncheon honoring the girls selected from Los Altos, Mountain View and Palo Alto middle schools, who will attend the Grace Hopper Tech Trek Science Camp at Stanford University in the summer. Camp scholarships are funded by local branches of the AAUW and the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs.

The luncheon, held at the Garden House at Shoup Park, was jointly hosted by the Los Altos/Mountain View and Palo Alto branches of the AAUW.

Bianco said Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon inspired her as a 10-year-old to become an astronaut.

At first, she was disheartened to learn that only former fighter pilots were eligible for the space program, and women at that time were not allowed to serve in combat roles.

A few years later, she decided that other skills besides piloting would be needed for future space missions, and NASA might run out of pilots in peacetime, so she enrolled in engineering courses taught at night at community college, secured an entry-level job at Lockheed Martin and had her further education subsidized by Lockheed Martin.

Eventually she was put in charge of coordinating teams working on mechanical parts for the International Space Station.

Bianco advised the middle-school girls in attendance that “failing doesn’t make you a failure,” and that “there is more than one pathway that will take you where you want to go.” She was encouraged in her career by her immigrant grandmother, who had been forced to drop out of school early to become a homemaker, as well as by her mother, who stood behind her at every decision. Bianco drew an extra round of applause when, in response to a question from the audience, she added, “Girls, I should also advise you – listen to your parents!”

The program also included a brief welcome by Marie Wolbach of the Palo Alto AAUW branch, who helped found the Tech Trek camp at Stanford, which now has AAUW-sponsored sister camps at college campuses all over California and in a number of other states.

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