Women in engineering and public office: interview with Bea Q. Rico, candidate for Port of Seattle Commissioner

Becoming an engineer is not an easy task. Excelling at it is even more complicated. And if you happen to be a woman and part of an ethnic minority, things will be remarkably tougher for you.

Today, I’m interviewing Bea Querido-Rico, an engineer with over 12 years of experience in the aerospace industry, who is also running for Port of Seattle Commisioner. Join us while we talk about what we can do to improve the world for future generations.

Education is one of the big challenges of our time, with less students choosing STEM degrees each year. How would you encourage the younger generations to become the professionals that we need as a society?

The strategy that works the best is inspiring through understanding first what motivates younger generations. Once the motivation is understood, then link that motivation to S.T.E.M. and pair it with relevant fun courses as well as role models that they can relate to.

Growing up I was only exposed to sports, accounting, and nursing. Some people in my family took steps into starting a business and my brother pursued engineering in college but all of that in my world was so abstract until I landed an internship at the Boeing Company working for the C-17 military cargo aircraft. That summer internship in aerospace widened my perspective and heavily influenced the way I think and operate professionally.

What it took for me to pursue a field in S.T.E.M. was simply walking on the factory floor and seeing how parts from around the world came together to make aircrafts that ultimately bring people together. Later in my aerospace career, a Director of Engineering for the 787 program coached me on the job and later challenged me to take on a masters of engineering.

In a world dominated by gender inequality and unconscious bias, how do you feel that being a woman and part of a minority has shaped your career?

The complex reality is the human element of judgment. If everyone were truly treated equally, we would all be taking trips to the moon right now because we would all focus our energy and brainpower on the next disruptive transportation vehicle or perhaps solving world hunger.

However, bias will always exist and being a young professional woman of color in a male dominated, predominately older and Caucasian, has been the story of my career. In order to be taken seriously by the male peers in the industry and in academics, I needed to work harder, articulate points more creatively, and think smarter. How that has helped, well, I’ve become better at strategizing.

What made you decide to run for public office at the Port of Seattle?

There are many reasons why I decided to run for office and I can go into the detail as well as the systematic decision making process I approached to go all in, but I’ll save that over gin and tonic hour. I jumped into the deep end of local elections because I was inspired by the call to action from nonprofits where I volunteer to basically step up and serve the community in a capacity that requires some risk taking.

I was also fed up with the lack of innovation and a lot of waste I was seeing from my experience working as Port staffer. So instead of complaining by the cooler about the issues, I decided to do something about it and ran. One of my favorite quotes is from Ghandi “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Hence, my campaign material is “BEA The Change.”

I’m motivated to run for office for many reasons, but platforms I am advocating for are specifically: social equity and inclusion, innovation and technology, and government accountability and transparency. Since this is Geek on record, on the innovation and tech front, I’d like to elaborate that I’m interested in:

  • Introducing an Open Data policy
  • Elevating the importance of the Information Technology and Communications department at the Port because it’s buried inside the organization
  • Hosting a ‘hackathon’ at The Port of Seattle
  • Investing in initiatives that support “Blue Ocean” type work in the area of maritime, fishing, aviation, and aerospace. I especially will focus more in space commercialization because the responsibility of the Port of Seattle is to strengthen the economy through transportation, trade, and industry. Basically, I plan to focus energy on the jobs of the future

In what ways do you think tech companies could collaborate more with the public sector? What partnerships would you like to develop as Port Commissioner?

I mentioned it briefly above but the Port of Seattle basically needs to be more pro-active in this area. The Port has a tendency to react to the changing landscape and that’s not smart.

By collaborating with tech companies we can better prepare for capital infrastructure planning, training, work force development. I’d like to see an Innovation Technology Advisory Council or something to this extent that will focus on developing an innovation roadmap for the Port to take into account for Maritime, Aviation, and Corporate.

Seattle has become a tech hub in recent years. In what ways do you think that has impacted Puget Sound?

Seattle has always been a tech hub. That’s why the companies are drawn to this region and the Port should sustain, protect, and further grow the brainpower that resides in this region. The impact has been a drastic jump in affordability and because of the tech community manifesting even faster in the recent years, it has consequently displaced many people in the non-tech communities out of Seattle.

My agenda for social equity is to find that compromise with tech companies to provide more support towards our local heritage, culture, and history. Seattle simply cannot be like San Francisco, with regards to housing and cost of living, and local government has a responsibility to focus on this issue, including the Port of Seattle.

What are the top three technology enhancements​ that you believe the Port of Seattle should be focused on getting?

  1. IoT
  2. Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
  3. Additive Manufacturing/Automation

These three technology enhancements are relevant and the Port will need to work with the Unions to find a way to introduce, train, and educate the workforce and community in a time frame that will work for the “non-startup” culture that exists at the Port.

In your website, you talk about wanting to establish an Open Data policy that empowers people to launch more startups. How do you think data transparency can benefit innovation?

You would be surprised how ingenious people are when they are given sets of data and numbers that they can transform to be more consumable to the public but also more applicable to improve operational efficiency.

If you had one ask for the tech industry, what would it be?

Please vote during the primaries, add more people that are S.T.E.M. advocates into office, and support Bea Querido-Rico who will be your partner for innovation. J

You can learn more about Bea at www.rockitbea.com

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