Mission Assurance and System Assessment Branch Head Loraida “Lory” Santiago-Mendez of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) has always used her community-focused leadership style, which she attributes to her Hispanic heritage, to bring out the best in not only herself, but also their team members.
Originally from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Santiago-Mendez explored many career opportunities such as B. running the US Census Bureau, an elementary school teacher, and even a legal career before she decided to pursue electrical engineering. Santiago-Mendez credits her diverse experiences with helping her “develop leadership and supervisory skills and giving me the opportunity to work with people of all ages and backgrounds.”
She received her Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering from the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, Bayamon. After studying law for a semester, she decided to give up a legal career and expand her career as an electrical engineer by earning her master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, San Juan. Santiago-Mendez also earned several credits towards a master’s degree in business administration to further enhance her comprehensive education.
When she attended a job fair with a friend, she was approached about a position at NSWCDD. “A recruiter took me upstairs to an interview room, but they were already speaking to someone else, and it was almost the end of that day. So they asked me to meet them in the morning. Little did I know that the person they were interviewing when I went upstairs would be my future husband,” Santiago-Mendez fondly recalled.
When she returned the next morning to meet with the recruiters for an interview, Santiago-Mendez was immediately offered an offer to join the NSWCDD team. She and approximately 14 other Hispanic individuals began their journey at NSWCDD, working for various departments. “They are like a support system, family, and many years later we are all still very good friends,” Santiago-Mendez said.
Since beginning her career at NSWCDD in 2011 with the Electromagnetics 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 work toward a common goal reach. “I’ve always felt that having good mentors was crucial during my career development and I’m now trying to do that with my team,” said Santiago-Mendez. “I have really good relationships with all my team members. I don’t have an open door policy because my door is always open.”
Santiago-Mendez says she prioritizes open communication with her team members. “I like to make time for people and that’s what I focus on,” said Santiago-Mendez. “In a technical organization, it’s easy 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 store manager, Santiago-Mendez draws on her heritage in her day-to-day management style. “In the office, it’s crucial to have this support system,” explained Santiago-Mendez. “It can happen through culture and in the workplace when shared goals create connections. I feel like we are very close as a Hispanic community and we understand that you need each other’s support. I know people generally understand that, but I think our culture is very community oriented. It’s a philosophy I bring to work every day.”