When Steve DeLeon, BS ASE 1975, was just six years old, he built a wooden plane that eventually ended up flying into the chicken coops on his family's property. His fascination with flight never left him as he made his way to UT and then on to lead engineer at Lockheed Martin, breaking barriers as a Hispanic along the way. Now, with four grown daughters and hoping to play a part in recruiting more women into aerospace, DeLeon has gifted $5,000, matched with another $5,000 from Lockheed Martin, to the department that helped him make a career out of his childhood aspirations.
"I always dreamed I would end up in the aircraft industry," he said. Born and raised in San Antonio, DeLeon said he always looked up to the University of Texas, even as a child. "Aircraft was my dream, and UT was the school with a fantastic program, so no other school came to mind. I needed to go to UT. I bleed orange."
While DeLeon doesn't recall experiencing discrimination during his days at the University in the early 1970s, he does remember the loneliness of being only one of a few minorities who didn’t quite fit in. But that never deterred him. In fact, his realization that UT lacked a strong support group for minorities led DeLeon to found Pi Sigma Pi, a catchall engineering service organization for pretty much anyone who didn't quite "belong," whether they were women, Hispanics or other minorities.
"Anybody who had culture shock at UT was welcome," DeLeon said. Nearly four decades later, Pi Sigma Pi has expanded to two other UT system schools and boasts over 10,000 alumni nationwide. And DeLeon didn't stop there in improving diversity in his field. As an undergraduate in a department on the verge of losing federal funding because of low numbers of minorities, DeLeon helped Dean Ernest Gloyna recruit more women and minorities to the Cockrell School, a role that led the dean to recommend him to the Vice President at General Dynamics as a hard worker who could help that company diversify its workforce as well.
"I have always felt that there are untouched sources of people out there – white, black, brown and so on – who have a tremendous amount of talent, and they should be given the opportunity to succeed," DeLeon said. "As we become extremely global, the world is becoming smaller and smaller and we need diversity in everything we do, and not just in race. It's important to have different values and different upbringings too."
With two of his four daughters having graduated from technical fields from UT System schools, DeLeon especially sees a need to ensure more women enter engineering.
"In this day and age, when women at Lockheed Martin have made tremendous gains, it worries me that a new pool of talented women are not coming into aerospace," he said. He hopes the $10,000 combined donation will help the department recruit more women. Though UT ranks among the top ten universities in female enrollment, the Cockrell School has seen the percentage of females enrolled in aerospace engineering drop more than five percent in the past five years.
This is not the first gift for DeLeon; he also established an endowed excellence fund to support the Cockrell School’s Equal Opportunity in Engineering program. DeLeon, having first founded Pi Sigma Pi and later co-founding the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME), sees his donations as part of his lifelong mission to help others gain the education and experience he received to pursue an engineering career.
"Everything I've done in my life couldn't have been possible without the education and the discipline I received at UT," said DeLeon, who has received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Ford Foundation and the United Hispanic Council. "That discipline served me well, and I owe them my life. I've spent all my life recruiting minorities and women into engineering, so this is natural for me. We need all the engineers we can get."
If you would like to join Steve and Mary DeLeon in contributing to the Women In Aerospace Engineering Scholarship Fund, please contact Bliss Angerman at 512-232-7085 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also make your gift online.