STEM academy a lesson in ‘paying it forward’
RENTON – When SPEEA Council Rep Deena Hougham was in second grade, she was the only student to say
science was her favorite subject in response to
a survey by her teacher. Neither could imagine
where that would lead Hougham.
“She (my teacher) told my parents to encourage the sciences,” said Hougham, who noted the
numerous science-related gifts such as microscopes, telescopes and chemistry sets she received
while growing up.
Hougham, a systems engineer, is back in the
classroom as a volunteer for the After School
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
(STEM) Academy, a joint venture between
Boeing and the Washington Alliance for Better
Schools. STEM outreach is a key component of
Engineers Week, Feb. 22-28.
For the STEM Academy, Hougham joins a
Northwood Middle School teacher and up to
two other volunteers to conduct an after-school
club. In the current session, students explore
the possibilities of green insulated homes once
a week for six weeks. The program is offered in
schools throughout the Puget Sound.
A lifelong Girl Scout member and troop leader,
Hougham started volunteering for the STEM
Academy about five years ago.
She loves seeing the students learn how reward-
ing it can be to solve problems. For example, in
the previous S TEM Academy, students built cit-
ies to test their theories on how to prevent water
run off. When a group of students saw their walls
collapse, they came up with an architectural solu-
tion called ‘flying buttresses’ without knowing
that’s what it was called.
“It was really rewarding to watch these kids have
an ‘aha’ moment,” Hougham said. “They fixed
something and were proud of it.”
Hougham, who grew up in Olympia, graduated from the University of Washington with
a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, then worked at McDonnell Douglas
in the Delta rocket propulsion program in
Huntington Beach, Calif.
“My parents used to say their daughter was a rocket scientist,” Hougham said, noting how her father
was the first in his family to earn a high school
degree and she is the first to earn a college degree.
Her father was a Teamster union member when
he worked for The Olympia Brewing Company.
Despite his positive experience with unions,
Hougham didn’t think unions were necessary for
white-collar professionals. She started to change her
mind when she came to work at Boeing in the Puget
Sound and learned about the SPEEA contracts.
“I found out people at Boeing had benefits we
lost 20 years ago (at McDonnell Douglas) – that’s
what a strong union can do for you.”
Another benefit of a union contract is having a
grievance process to ensure discipline is fair and
just. “In my career, I’ve seen a lot of atrocities per-
petrated against people by companies so strong they
can do whatever they want. Without a union, they
(employees) have no one to stand behind them
and say they (companies) can’t do this,” she said.
“The union has the power and financial backing,”
she added, noting “it’s really hard to challenge a
company when you’re on your own.”
Hougham, who became a Council Rep about
two years ago, earned her law degree while working full time at McDonnell Douglas. She left to
practice law in California, including working at
a labor law firm representing employees. She is
also a member of the patent bar.
She returned to McDonnell Douglas as an engineer working on launch vehicle proposals and
then shifted to Research and Development. In
2007, she returned to the Northwest to work
in the Customer Engineering Division as a
Customer Engineer Account Manager. She
works in Renton as the customer’s technical focal
for The Boeing Company and assists customers
in configuring their airplanes.
“I can’t seem to stay away from engineering.”
Since 1951, Engineers Week recognizes and
celebrates the profession of engineering.
In 1990, based on government studies predicting a shortage of engineers, the group launched
‘DiscoverE.’ This included a nationwide call for
volunteers to work with K- 12 students interested in science, technology, engineering and
In 2013, the National Engineers Week
Foundation changed its name to DiscoverE.
To learn more, go to
Engineers Week – Feb. 22-28
Deena Hougham, a Renton Council Rep, is shown here with some of the tools she will use with another volunteer and a Northwood Middle School teacher to help students explore the
possibilities of saving energy. This is part of an after-school science club offered through the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy. (Photo by Bryan Johnson)