Campus & Community

Rockwell Collins SVP Shares Lesson of Success with SSE Graduates

At the Stevens School of Systems and Engineering (SSE) graduate Commencement ceremony, held in the Burchard Building on May 24, Nan Mattai spoke from personal experience to graduates earning master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Systems Engineering, Software Engineering, Engineering Management and Financial Engineering about overcoming the challenges they will face in today’s workforce.

Mattai is senior vice president, Engineering & Technology for Rockwell Collins, a pioneer in the development and deployment of innovative communication and aviation electronic solutions for both commercial and government applications. As the company’s chief engineering officer, she is responsible for guiding future technology direction, investment and development. 

Her main message was that for graduates to realize their career goals, they have to believe in their capabilities, partner with others and recognize that change is inevitable.

“You will be the developers of solutions that will address the challenges of the 21st century, enhance our competitiveness and provide competitive differentiation,” Mattai said. “But the road ahead will not always be easy.”

Mattai said the rapid pace of technology advancement, greater global competition, and the increased diversity of product development teams are some of the complex challenges engineers face today.

“Given these challenges, there is tremendous need for innovation, creativity and leadership – areas in which you are well positioned to contribute,” she said.

Recognizing this year’s campus-wide 40th anniversary celebration of Stevens becoming coeducational, Mattai used her own personal story as a female engineering leader – as well as the story of her personal hero, Nobel prize-winning scientist Marie Curie – to share key lessons for success. 

“First, you have to believe that you are capable,” Mattai said. Neither Curie, who began her university studies in the late 1800s when no women in Europe had completed a doctorate degree in research science, nor Mattai, who had no female engineering role models growing up in Guyana, let doubts or uncertainties get in the way of achieving their goals.

Mattai also encouraged the graduates to be open to working in partnership with others. Curie collaborated with her sister on financial arrangements to make their dreams of attending college happen, and her husband was her lifelong research partner. Mattai has worked in partnership with her husband throughout their marriage, and she uses business partnerships daily to achieve growth and success at Rockwell Collins.

Finally, Mattai spoke of the importance of embracing change. Curie’s pioneering research on radioactivity was only possible because she drew on timely earlier discoveries about X-rays and uranium. Mattai’s early career was designing software for GPS receivers – which at the time, in 1984, was hardly more than a far-fetched idea – and that experience launched her career in the aerospace and defense industry.

“Today, my job is to ensure the Rockwell Collins is positioning for change, whether it’s change within our organization, our marketplaces or our industry,” she said. “We have to constantly be thinking about what our customers need – now and in the future. We also have to look at ways to adapt in order to solve problems. If we don’t, we’ll fall behind.”

Mattai closed with one final word of advice to the graduates: “As you walk out of this room today, I encourage you to always consider the impact you wish to make in the world.”

Read full coverage of Stevens’ 140th Commencement here