KRISTEN HURLEY didn’t know the difference between a series circuit and a parallel circuit when her father helped her work on a third-grade science project about electricity. What she remembers most was her dad’s excitement.
It was just the nudge she needed.
“His enthusiasm really sparked mine,” said Hurley, a senior principal systems engineer at BAE Systems in Hudson.
Hurley was one of four engineers from BAE honored over the weekend with the Modern Day Technology Leader Award at the Black Engineer of the Year STEM Conference in Washington, D.C. Three of the engineers are based in New Hampshire, and one works in Austin, Texas.
The BEYA Conference celebrates innovators in science, technology, engineering and math and promotes workforce opportunities in business and the military. BEYA also works with K-12 schools and colleges across the country.
Hurley joined BAE about 3½ years ago after more than 11 years working as a systems engineer for Raytheon. Her career path was set early in her childhood: Both her parents worked in STEM fields at IBM.
“Throughout education I had really been excelling in math and science so I kind of leaned towards that when it was time to declare my major, and felt like engineering would be a good fit for me,” said Hurley, who grew up in Saugerties, N.Y., about 90 minutes north of New York City.
Hurley recalls Saugerties as not being particularly diverse. She credits her home environment for helping her excel. At Northeastern University, she earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering.
“I was one of four Black female engineers in my graduating class. I think together our support kind of held us through, and we’re all still great friends,” said Hurley, who planned to reconnect with one of those fellow graduates while visiting D.C.
Black workers comprise 11% of all employed adults in the U.S., but only 9% of those in STEM occupations, according to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. They represent just 5% in engineering jobs.
Hurley earned her master of science in engineering management from Tufts University and since joining BAE has participated in a women’s leadership training program. What attracts her to engineering remains the same.
“With engineering it’s all about problem solving. I think that’s what draws me in because you’re always doing something new,” Hurley said. “Our goal is always to make something safer, more efficient, try to improve the products we have for our customer, who is the war fighter.”
As a mother of two young children, Hurley is always looking for programs that will enhance their education.
“For any parent who is interested in getting their child into a STEM field I really think it’s important to have a good relationship with their teachers and find out what programs and activities they can do in school and outside of school that will help help develop some of those core math and science skills,” Hurley said.
Kids, that’s mom code for math homework on weekends.
Hurley’s 11-year-old son participates in Russian School math, which is an after-school academic program. He used to push back at his parents — math is hard! — but not so much these days, especially since he’s become a mentor to other students his age.
“Anything worth it is going to be challenging. There is a reward when you have to work for something,” Hurley said. “And I think over time and as they get older, they really start to see that.”
Hurley was speaking by phone from her car on Wednesday while her 6-year-old daughter was participating in a gymnastics class. So far, her daughter excels at both writing and math. When she hits first grade, she’s going to enroll in the same after-school math program her brother attends.
“She’s not exempt,” Hurley said. “She’s going to be right in there, too.”
The next generation of engineers can’t come fast enough for BAE, which employs more than 6,000 people in New Hampshire. The state’s largest manufacturing employer has operations in Nashua, Hudson and Merrimack and recently expanded into Manchester on Goffs Falls Road.
“Our company has to hire 800 engineers in Manchester alone to fill our new campus,” said Shelley Walcott, a BAE spokeswoman. “Promoting STEM careers, particularly careers in engineering, is very important because it’s great job security.”