Growing up on a Navajo reservation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, Latoya Benally spent most of her time taking apart machines and putting them back together to learn how they operated. Benally is now a senior manufacturing engineer at Boeing, and she credits the same passion for problem solving that she discovered as a curious child living in a small, rural town as fundamental to her role increasing production quality.
In the video project “STEM Sit Downs” produced by FUTURE U., a partnership with Boeing and Discovery Education, she was interviewed by a student to share more about her diverse background and career path.
A college internship led Benally to Boeing, where she now supports the AH-64 Apache helicopter program as a Manufacturing Engineering Manager for the Electrical Center of Excellence. Recently the Mesa, Ariz. based engineer helped increase production quality for the program after joining a cross-functional team tasked with reducing nonconformance records (NCRs). NCRs can include a wide range of issues, from discoveries of foreign object debris to wiring problems, and often lead to rework — costing programs time and money.
The team of Engineering, Operations, Quality and Supply Chain personnel Benally partnered with to reduce NCRs was so successful, it served as a starting point for the Apache’s Factory Support Collaboration Center (FSCC). The center was formally established to address quality, workflow and cost issues using the Boeing Problem Solving Model to identify and eliminate root causes.
In 2022, this group finished 44 projects with no repeat NCR occurrences, delivering monthly savings of more than $12,000 and 195 hours of rework. The team was also recognized as the 2021 Vertical Lift Engineering Team of the Year.
“Once we stood up the FSCC teams, as dedicated focals solving issues, we were able to deep-dive recurring problems in a methodical way that you can’t do if you’re primarily reacting to issues on a daily basis,” Benally said.
In addition to supporting the AH-64 Apache program, Benally is co-chair of the Mesa site chapter’s BE-IN (Boeing Employees - Indigenous Network) Business Resource Group (BRG) – a role that allows her to champion the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“We need a collective thought process to solve problems,” Benally said. “When we embrace each other’s background and stories, it builds an inclusive environment. This helps develop relationships and increases collaboration.”
Benally says her childhood experience and career journey serve as inspiration to mentor students and encourage diversity in STEM careers
“My advice to young people is to work hard, be proud, and never let anyone stand in the way of your dreams.”