With Mom as a Mentor, Her Career Really Advanced

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When she was an engineering student, Denise Luppa and her female lab partner were often singled out to perform their tests again. At the time, she remembers thinking their professor simply did not believe the two women could get the correct results.

“I looked at it like a challenge,” said Denise, an advanced programs manager for Lockheed Martin. “I decided that I was going to prove him wrong.”

That resolve was born at a young age as Denise observed her mother’s focus. While Denise played on the softball field, her mother Robbie Brunner, perched in the stands with her books. Robbie, a full-time engineering aide, was determined to earn a master’s degree in computer science to get a better-paying job to support her children.

Denise took notice. She peppered Robbie with questions about her job and her studies, and gained information and inspiration. She was hooked on problem-solving and using technology to find solutions. Denise decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“I remember coming home from college one night and my mom was studying for a final exam,” Denise said. “She didn’t understand bits – so I stayed up and helped her study.”

Robbie earned her master’s degree and accepted a Software Engineering job with more responsibilities and better pay. Denise started her career as an electrical engineer on the Advanced Course with General Electric (a Lockheed Martin heritage company) in Syracuse, New York. After she earned her master’s in computer engineering she accepted a software engineering role with GE in 1990. Her career path led her to projects ranging from sonar to radars to the advanced technology systems that she supports today.

Here are four things that Denise learned along the way.

1.  CHANGE "YOU WON'T" AND "YOU CAN'T" TO "I WILL" AND "I DID"

That college professor wasn’t the first person to challenge Denise’s abilities. But instead of getting discouraged, Denise used the words to fuel her passion.  

2.  TRY A VARIETY OF ROLES

As Denise progressed through her career, she recognized she is a good engineer – but team and project leadership are her strong points. She also learned from her role managing entry-level employees in theEngineering Leadership Development Program, which gives young professionals a variety of job rotations in the field.

3.  FIND SOMEONE  WHO INSPIRES YOU

Denise didn’t have to look far to find her inspiration. Her mom’s mentorship continued through Denise’s new roles as a parent and manager. Robbie kept her computer science job until her retirement a few years ago.

4.  DO SOMETHING  THAT INSPIRES YOU

Today, Denise works with Lockheed Martin teams and with government research and development organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that are developing technologies that will be used in future programs. One of those programs is ICECool, which is developing a way to cool microchips used in advanced systems such as electronic warfare, radars, lasers and other technologies such as computer systems. “My goal is to see the ICECool program transition to something that will help the warfighter. I think we’re getting close to that,” Denise said. 

One of her most important lessons, Denise said, is to always be ready to deliver results in the face of a challenge.

“I had a female physics teacher in high school who told the girls in class that we could never make it as engineers,” Denise remembers. “So I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna do it.’”

And she did.