In the auto industry, many things change, but many things also stay the same. For Jessica Moreno, an engineering program manager at GM, her family’s ties to General Motors are not new. She continues the legacy of her father, who worked on the assembly line at General Motors for over 30 years. However, the auto industry Jessica works in today is very different in many ways. There are more advanced electronics in today’s vehicles than ever before, and Jessica’s team is working on cutting-edge vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communications, which will be an essential technology for the autonomous vehicles of the future.
We recently interviewed Jessica to learn more about her story and share her thoughts on the growing number of career opportunities for Hispanics, the importance of getting involved within the community, as well as STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) career opportunities for women.
How has your family helped you?
My mother has always been my greatest supporter and advisor. During my first year out of college, I began to feel discouraged about where my career was going. My mother advised me to seek out opportunities to use my engineering background to give back to the community I grew up in. I took her advice, and reached out to the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
I spoke to the director of the Young Engineers and Scientists (YES) Program, and the next day I attended my first YES session working with local high school students on STEM related experiments and activities. I loved working with the students and formed great friendships with the other volunteers who were also at a similar place within their career. As I mentored the students, I found a great sense of motivation in my own career, which gave me the confidence to pursue my master’s degree and seek out a position at GM.
While volunteering for the YES Program, I also met my wonderful husband Theo, a GM engineer and a long-time member of SHPE. Since then, we welcomed our daughter Gabriela and our son Mateo into our lives. They help to remind us of what is truly important each and every day.
What do you enjoy the most about your work at GM?
I sincerely appreciate the diversity of GM, both when it comes to my work and my colleagues. My husband and I both work in the GM Tech Center, so we are exposed to talented people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world each day.
Diversity of work is a big part of my role on the V2V team, which is developing technology that will allow the next generation of vehicles to communicate with each other on the road. Since this technology is completely new, every day presents a new and unique challenge.
Coming from a close-knit Hispanic family, I think I bring a very valuable perspective to our team. On the one hand, my Hispanic heritage helps me understand one of our fastest growing groups of customers. And as a mother of two young children, I think I bring an even more important perspective to the table. As I am working on technology that will help make the roads of tomorrow safer for millions of families, I am always thinking of how my own background and family can be used to help others.
What led your career path to the auto industry?
My attraction to the auto industry and GM began when I was in high school. I attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit. At Cass Tech, students declare a major similar to college. Because I’ve always enjoyed math and drawing, I thought design drafting technology would be a good fit for me. Drafting became one of my best classes, and I found myself typically finishing my projects with time to spare.
The architecture teacher, Mr. Ameel, taught architecture in the same classroom, and when he saw that I was finishing my drafting projects early, he would come over and talk to me about architecture. I started to gain an interest in architecture and would study architectural designs in my free time. Mr. Ameel asked me to enter one of my drawings in the Michigan State Fair, and I won third place, which heightened my interest in the field.
During my junior year, Mr. Ameel found out that GM was looking for students to work at the Hamtramck plant, which was the Cadillac Assembly Center at the time. He encouraged me to apply, and said that engineering would be a great field for me with many more opportunities. So, I applied and I was accepted. I went on to spend my junior year of high school working at the Cadillac plant a few hours each morning before school.
That summer, they invited me to work as a co-op student. This was my very first job and my first real exposure to engineering. I felt I really found my career path. I worked with a college student from Tuskegee University who was a mechanical engineering major. She was a great mentor to me and encouraged me to major in mechanical engineering.
So, I returned to Cass Tech for my senior year ready to apply for colleges as a mechanical engineering student and pursue a career path in the automotive industry. During my undergraduate career, I interned at Eaton Corporation and upon graduation I took a full time position at Eaton. I later pursued an opportunity at BorgWarner working as a design release engineer. It was very important to me to earn a master’s degree in engineering, so I elected to leave my position at BorgWarner to pursue my graduate degree full-time. I knew that I wanted to remain in the automotive industry so the masters of engineering in automotive engineering program at the University of Michigan was the perfect fit for me.
I finished my degree in three semesters and also had an opportunity to co-op at Ford Motor Company during the summer of my graduate program. However, I knew I wanted to return to the company that started my passion for the automotive industry, which was GM. During my second semester in grad school I was recruited by GM and offered a position in Hybrid Powertrain working on power electronics for the 2-Mode Hybrid Program. This was a very exciting time for me as I had achieved two of my personal goals: I completed my master’s degree and was now working on leading technology at General Motors.