Logo: University of Southern California

Charting A New Course

After years of systems installation work aboard many Navy ships, ISE doctoral student Yvette Torres becomes a professor in pursuit of a new career in academia

November 20, 2007 —
Yvette Torres
Yvette Torres doesn’t have a Ph.D. behind her name yet, but she already has the title of “professor” in front of it.

The former Navy radar installation team leader and USC Epstein Department doctoral student has just become an instructor at the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), a Department of Defense university that trains the government’s acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) workforce.

“It’s perfect,” says Torres, who is the first Hispanic female instructor in DAU’s west region. “It puts me on a new career path toward academia and will allow me to serve as a role model for other Hispanic women engineers.”

Torres’ systems installation experience aboard many Navy ships over the years is valuable to professionals who have not had recent field experience in the highly specialized world of AT&L.  So much that she has been recruited to teach AT&L employees at all levels of professional experience.  The former radar installation team leader spent 12 years and many months of each year traveling for the Navy, which taught her lessons no textbook could ever cover.  Prior to joining the faculty of DAU, Torres worked with the Combat System Installation Team at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Division in Port Hueneme, CA, commuting 150 miles each day from her Los Angeles home to work.   

Her career path has been eventful. Torres began as an engineering co-op student from USC.  As soon as she had earned a BS in electrical engineering in 1996, the Navy assigned her to some heavy travel duties to conduct combat system installations.  

“My first five years consisted of traveling 80-to-90 percent of each year, leading installations in various shipyards and naval bases in Virginia, Louisiana, California, Florida, and Japan,” she says. “I usually stayed in each port from one month to six months to perform the installation, system testing, and then to participate in mock war scenarios at sea.”

She did that for eight years, until she was promoted to radar team lead and supervised a radar installation team of five engineers and technicians.  After gaining extensive technical and leadership skills, Torres decided to pursue a master’s degree in systems engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.  She worked 10-hour days and attended lectures on Fridays. When she was on travel for her radar installation job, she participated in distance learning classes.  She kept up with the healthy travel schedule until she graduated in 2003.   

Torres in front of Tutor Hall.
“The travel wasn’t quite as extensive, but I had to make frequent short trips to Washington, D.C., to report to the Program Executive Office for our radar program,” she says. “By the end of 2005, I began to inquire about USC’s PhD program in industrial and systems engineering, and started thinking about a future in academia.”

Living in Los Angeles, she had to take an unpaid leave of absence from the Navy to finish the first year of her PhD studies at USC. When year two rolled around, she had to find another solution that would give her an income while going to school. She found the solution online and answered a DAU announcement for a systems engineering management professor. With guidance from her adviser, USC Professor Stan Settles, director of the USC Viterbi School’s Systems Architecting and Engineering Program, and a radar program office official, she got the job.

“That was the break I had been looking for,” says Torres, who is already in training for her professorial role. She’ll be teaching 16 to 18 systems engineering and acquisition courses each year beginning in January, bringing her own knowledge, experience, technical, managerial and leadership skills into the classroom to educate the Department of Defense acquisition workforce. She’ll be teaching in classrooms locally and via distance learning in various areas of DAU's west region.

She doesn’t worry about standing out as one of the few, if not the only, Hispanic woman in DAU's west region.

“Actually, being the only female Hispanic engineer in an organization is quite familiar to me,” Torres says. “I’m excited about that role. It’s an important opportunity for me to influence a change in the workplace.”