Alumni Spotlight: Tonya Noble

Tonya Noble

Tonya Noble has taken flight since she graduated from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1996. Her career at The Boeing Company skyrocketed, as she moved throughout the company, with a specialty in working with military customers. A graduate of Cass Tech High School in Detroit, Noble was a Lee Honors College graduate and also has served as a board member of WMU’s Alumni Association. In addition, Noble has served on the college’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and the former Engineering Board of Visitors. She received a master’s degree in computer science from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo., in 2001 and an MBA from the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis in 2008. She can be reached at tonya.m.noble@boeing.com.

 

What has your career path been like since graduating from WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences? What opportunities and decisions led to your current position at Boeing?

I was hired into The Boeing Company (then McDonnell Douglas) as a software systems engineer. I moved around throughout the company, accepting increased responsibilities along the way with opportunities to work on several military platforms servicing various military customers. For example, I’ve worked on programs that delivered flight simulators to our US Air Force and US Navy. I’ve worked on programs that integrated combat systems for the US Army. I’ve worked in the capacity of software engineering, systems engineering, product manager and program manager. I’m approaching 20 years with the company and have enjoyed and learned from every assignment leading up to my current role as executive.

Accepting opportunities to work special assignments (such as being an executive assistant to a division vice president), assignments that gave me the chance to travel and interface directly with customers, and assignments that required me to work across functions and business units have well prepared me for my current job of overseeing a portfolio of military programs.

Also, making the decision to invest in my personal development over the years through mentorship, continued education, development programs, etc., have been instrumental.

 

What are you passionate about in your work?

I am passionate about establishing solid relationships, internally and externally. With positive relationships, you can find ways to negotiate and compromise and come up with win-win solutions for all parties involved. With positive relationships, you can minimize misunderstandings and avoid many conflicts. You can also learn the strengths of others as you build those relationships.

I’m also passionate about people development and building a pipeline of talent in our next generation of leaders. I mentor several junior employees. I’m often amazed at how I learn from those engagements. I often tell my mentees that I learn as much, if not more, from them as they do from me.

 

How did your experience at WMU’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences shape your success?

My experiences helped shape my success very well. I sum up my overall WMU experience as learning how to solve problems. Every problem starts with a set of requirements, with knowns and unknowns and the need to find a solution. That’s no different than the work environment. You’re given a problem and you figure out how to solve it. Through my experiences at WMU, I’ve learned to be resourceful, how to make data driven decisions, and how to value diversity of thought through working in teams.

 

What advice would you give young women pursuing a degree in engineering?

Several pieces of advice I would offer to young women pursuing a degree in engineering:

  1. Join a support group of peers. Organizations like the Society of Women Engineers provide great resources and a support network for individuals in very similar situations.
  2. Find a mentor. It can be a graduate student, a senior undergraduate student, or even a professional in industry. But having someone to talk to who can relate to what you’re going through is helpful.
  3. Learn time management early. I was a loyal user of a planner as a student. But today’s technology offers a lot more options. Whatever your approach to adhering to a schedule, block off class times, exam dates, etc. More importantly, block off times throughout the day and week for homework and studying.
  4. Stay confident. Ask for help if you need it. Know the end goal is worth it. You may be far and few in numbers in your classes and engineering program. But it will be so worth it in the end.

 

You’ve been a very active supporter and volunteer at WMU since you graduated. What’s the best way for alumni to get involved?

The best way for alumni to get involved with WMU after graduation is to go back and visit as often as you can. With today’s technology, it’s so easy to stay connected and aware of upcoming events. During those visits, go back and visit your college and connect with the faculty to see how you can be instrumental to the college as an alum. Another avenue of staying connected is to get involved with your employer’s recruiting activities at WMU. Find out how you can volunteer to help.

 

Anything else we should know about you?

Being a student was some of the best years of my life. Being a supporter of WMU is a no-brainer for me. I am a forever Bronco no matter how far I live from WMU. I’ve always been very confident and knew that whatever I put my mind to achieve, I could. One of my favorite quotes and motto is: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” –Henry Ford.