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UAH, Cherokee heritage help inspire life of leadership in Boeing’s Robert Green

HUNTSVILLE — Today, Robert Green is senior director for Boeing’s Integrated Air & Missile Defense portfolio, supporting systems as vital as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense and Avenger.

But it’s been a long road to achieving his current status. In fact, the University of Alabama in Huntsville alumnus said he has never benefitted from an easy path in life.

“We were very poor, and I had a tough childhood,” Green said. “But I learned my work ethic from my father, Carroll Lynn Green, who worked very hard. I was motivated to have a better life for myself and, if God was to bless me with one, my family.”

The 1984 graduate has traveled quite a way from those humble beginnings. It was a journey that would see him become the first member of his family to graduate from college, and earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering on a federal Pell Grant.

However, Green said he wasn’t drawn to a potential career in engineering early on.

Robert Green poses with his father, Carroll Lynn Green, at college graduation, 1984.
(Credit: Robert Green)

“I was an athlete, and I wanted to play college sports, but my wife challenged me to want to be more — sparking my interest in engineering by encouraging me to have conversations with her father, who was an engineer,” he said. “She asked me a simple question one day to the effect of, ‘What? Are you scared to try engineering at UAH?’ And that charted my course.

“Her father was one of the first graduates of the new master’s program at UAH. She challenged me to consider following suit, and the rest is history! I was inspired to engineering by my father-in-law, John W. Wilcox, and he talked to me all the time about the really exciting things he was working on. He was in the first UAH graduate class.”

The moment that fateful decision was made only marked the start of an arduous struggle to succeed that began anew each day.

“When I first started at UAH, I wasn’t qualified for the College of Engineering, so I was admitted as a ‘special non-degree student’ until I passed all of the prerequisites to be admitted,” Green said. “I was working full time and going to school with a full course load at night.

“I always carried a heavy school load and workload. When I finally was admitted into the College of Engineering, the dean had to sign my first quarter class schedule, but he wouldn’t sign it because of the heavy course load. We met several times to discuss that, and I wouldn’t budge on lightening my courses, so he finally gave in!

It was the dean who inadvertently inspired Green to pursue his degree.

“He told me that I would never graduate with such a heavy course load while working full time,” Green said. “Those words lit a fire under me. I went on to prove it was possible by receiving my bachelor’s and master’s degree – becoming vice president of the Engineering Honor Society along the way”.

Green said a special instructor helped influence his burgeoning career.

“A mentor of mine was my professor, Dr. Charles Halijak, who was over my major when I was studying for my master’s degree,” he said. “He would always encourage me to keep driving to finish my MS degree.

“I was the only one in my family to go to college to that point.”

Whenever times got especially tough in those early days, Green said he found an important source of strength and inspiration from family stories that reflected his Cherokee heritage. Over the years, Green said he has used this connection as a foundation for his life, a path that has led him to become an executive champion for the Huntsville chapter of the Boeing Native American Network.

The BNAN is an employee-led endeavor that strives to build awareness of the richness and diversity of Native American and Indigenous cultures within the Boeing team. The organization emphasizes career development and leadership and encourages STEM careers for Native American and Indigenous youth, as well as providing training opportunities.

“I’ve always been involved in my community, and I wanted to get involved in a broader way through Boeing’s employee-led associations, which are designed to advance personal and professional development, promote diversity within the company and strengthen networking,” Green said.

Listening to the stories passed down by his great-grandmother made him feel a deep kinship with his fellow Native Americans and a wish to inspire others to forge a similar path to their dreams. It’s easy to see that helping Native Americans and Indigenous people get involved in STEM is very close to the UAH alum’s heart.

“When I found out about the Boeing Native American Network, my Cherokee heritage provided added inspiration to get involved,” Green said. “Now I’m one of the executive sponsors for the network. Providing opportunities for all people to succeed is important, especially for those who may not be aware of opportunities or need a challenge or motivation like I did.

“You never know what can be achieved until you unleash that potential.”

 

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