By John Harrington , 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 10, 2017
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Miguel Maldonado is the Air Force Research Laboratory, Fuels and Energy branch chief here. Born in New York City, he moved from Harlem back to his family’s native Puerto Rico when he was 10. He said his family had initially moved to the United States’ mainland seeking better opportunities and returned to Puerto Rico as economic conditions on the island improved.
Maldonado completed middle school, high school and college in Puerto Rico. Studying electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, he said he had no intentions of going back to the U.S. mainland, until recruiters from the Air Force Research Laboratory arrived on the island.
“They were recruiting us on the spot,” Maldonado said. “They were saying ‘Does this look interesting?’ and it did; it looked really interesting. Then they said, ‘OK, when do you want to start?”
Initially a little apprehensive, he said he had no idea where Dayton, Ohio was, Maldonado succumbed to the opportunity and found himself flying back to the mainland in spring of 1987.
“When that plane started to turn and all I saw was farmland, I was thinking, ‘Where am I going?’ Maldonado said. “I’m kind of kidding, but really I love salsa music: played it, danced it, performed it. There was no salsa music in Dayton, Ohio. So, I can pretty much say I was the first Latin music DJ in the area.”
Now, 30 years later, Maldonado feels it was the right move.
“It’s a great place to live in the sense to raise a family, good schools, cost of living is better than a lot of places, so I’ve enjoyed it,’ Maldonado said. “I mean, my career has been great. The things I’ve seen in technology.”
And, so did a significant number of Maldonado’s peers.
“When I came, within the next two years about 30 of us came from Puerto Rico, pretty much from the same school,” Maldonado said. “I would say at least half have stayed here their whole careers.”
From his early beginnings working electrical power systems to now running a branch, Maldonado proactively finds ways to give back. An early initiative of Maldonado’s and a few others included providing science, technology, engineering and math skills to youngsters using sports. They would mentor students after school, help them with their homework and then give them a sport, coach them in it while teaching players how math and science related to that sport, according to Maldonado.
Now, Maldonado serves as the Region 6 Vice President of the national Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. For the past 14 years, Maldonado has been making an impact on lifting up Hispanic students to achieve their dreams in this society that has professional and student chapters throughout the country.
“We bring them together, the Hispanic community, to help them, mentor them,” Maldonado said. “We help the students get to where they want to be as far as a profession or [education], such as a post-doctorate degree. We also help professionals out to crawl up the ladder, providing them with the tools and skills that they need.”
Mentorship is a full-time job for Maldonado, bringing the same passion he has for SHPE to his day job.
“One of the cool things about Miguel is that he really supports us getting as many students as we want because it's part of mentoring the next generation,” said Millisa Griesenbrock, AFRL Fuels and Energy research chemist. “It’s about passing on our experiences and giving them a hands-on experience in the lab. They're not coming in here pushing papers or doing the grunt work. They're doing the same jobs that we're doing in the laboratory, right along with us.”
Maldonado says his love for mentoring was passed down to him by those who mentored him, such as one who taught him to be more outspoken.
“When I got here, a guy that I adored, for me was like a second father, was actually a technician,” Maldonado said. “He was very outgoing. He’s the one that I would say got me to be more outgoing, talk, wanting to help communities because he was always involved in something.”
Today, Maldonado has experienced success and wants to spread that good fortune to others.
“Now I try to see if I can help everybody else get up there,” Maldonado said. “You know, we’ve achieved certain goals and it’s time in our careers to open doors for those that are coming behind us. One, in doing our job to get where we can so we can represent well. And second, we want to show that we can so that opens doors for those that are coming up. Plus, being role models for those young ones who look up and say, ‘I can be there. I can get there.’”
Maldonado’s efforts are appreciated, perhaps even more than he understands.
“He's really pushed me to do things I am uncomfortable with,” Griesenbrock said. “Like speaking in public, being more of a leader and speaking out. Maybe it's because I’m a woman or just my personality, but I like to sit there, take it in and think about what I just heard and maybe talk about it later. But, it's important to speak up in groups of people so they know that you're there and what you're thinking, even if it's not a fully formed thought. That is a big, huge takeaway. I mean, I don't even have words.”
Seeing people succeed is all the thanks Maldonado said he needs.
“If I can help a kid, and I’ve seen many succeed, from second year or junior and then seeing them transition into their professional careers,” Maldonado said. “For me, that’s all I need. Not everybody gets driven by the same things. Mentoring for me is a big reward. “
And as Maldonado experienced coming up through the ranks, he instills those same virtues in those he helps.
“People out there should be mentoring,” Maldonado said. “I see it as a responsibility. When I talk to a student, I tell them, you know, you have a responsibility to open doors to those that are coming next.”