DAHLGREN, Va. –
Mission Assurance and System Assessment Branch head Loraida “Lory” Santiago-Mendez at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) has always used her community-oriented style of leadership, which she credits to her Hispanic heritage, to bring out the best in not only herself but her team members as well.
Originally from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Santiago-Mendez explored many career options, such as management for the U.S. Census Bureau, an elementary school teacher and even a law career, before deciding electrical engineering was for her. Santiago-Mendez credits her diverse experiences for helping her to develop “leadership and supervisory skills and giving me the opportunity to work with people of all ages and backgrounds.”
She graduated from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, Bayamon, with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After going to law school for a semester, she decided to forgo a law career and expand her electrical engineering career by obtaining her master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, San Juan. Santiago-Mendez also obtained several credits for a master’s degree in business administration to continue to improve her well-rounded education.
While attending a job fair with a friend, she was approached about a position at NSWCDD. “A recruiter took me upstairs to a room to interview, but they were already talking to someone else, and it was almost the end of this day. So, they asked me to meet them in the morning. Little did I know, the person they were interviewing when I went upstairs would become my future husband,” Santiago-Mendez fondly recalled.
When she returned the next morning to meet with the recruiters for an interview, Santiago-Mendez was given an on-the-spot offer to join the NSWCDD team. She and approximately 14 other Hispanic individuals started their journey at NSWCDD working for different departments. “They are like a support system, a family, and many years later, we are all still really good friends,” Santiago-Mendez said.
Since starting her career at NSWCDD in 2011 with the Electromagnetic and Sensor Systems Department, Santiago-Mendez has continuously used her family-oriented leadership style to mentor others and create a work environment where others can rely on each other to reach a common goal. “I have always felt that having good mentors was critical through my career development, and that’s what I try to do with my team now,” Santiago-Mendez said. “I have really good relationships with all of my team members. I don’t have an open door policy because my door is always open.”
Santiago-Mendez says that she prioritizes having open communication with her team members. “I like to make time for people, and that’s something I focus on,” Santiago-Mendez expressed. “It is easy in a technical organization to focus on the technical work and forget to take the time to develop a sense of community. I believe that a community approach increases the chances of success.”
As a branch head, Santiago-Mendez calls upon her heritage in her everyday leadership style. “In the office, it’s critical to have that support system,” Santiago-Mendez stated. “That might be created by culture and in the workplace when common goals create connections. I feel that we, as a Hispanic community, are very close and we understand that you need the support of each other. I know that people, in general, understand that, but I think our culture is very community-oriented. It’s a philosophy I bring to work every day.”