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Living Without Limits With Linda Thomas, F. SWE

Linda Thomas, F.SWE, reflects on her career journey in this interview with Hang Loi
SWE Spotlight: Late Career & Retiree Affinity Group
Linda Thomas, F.SWE
Linda with a pandemic garlic harvest

I met Linda Thomas, currently an FY24 SWE senator, at WE22 Houston just as the Late Career and Retiree Affinity Group (LCR AG) was gathering for a picture. We did not speak much as it was one of my first interactions with this AG, and I was hoping to simply remember everyone’s names. I was taking it in, inspired that these women engineers have grown and maintained friendships across decades and geographies, gathering at SWE conferences to connect and support one other — all while advancing SWE’s mission. Linda and I met again a year later at WE23 Los Angeles, this time with more conversations. Our chats uncovered surprising connections, including Vietnamese heritage and love for music.

Against this backdrop and the fact that March is Women History Month, I thought what better opportunity to learn more about this inspiring trailblazer and share it out to the broader SWE community. After all, this is the month that celebrates the vital roles and contributions of women and women engineers in American history.

March is also the month that SWE shines the spotlight on the Late Career and Retiree Affinity Group that Linda and I are both members of. This AG offers events and programming for SWE members at later stages of their careers or those who have moved onto more independent endeavors by providing opportunities for members to connect and give back at the global, national, and local levels.

Let’s meet Ms. Linda Thomas, current SWE senator and self-described mom, wife, engineer, musician, photographer, and STEMinist!

You Enjoyed an Established Career as an Engineer and Retired From Boeing as a Technical Fellow. What Was a Moment in Your Journey When You Felt You Made the Right Choice?

That time was about 13 years into my career. I completed a career development program and was undecided whether to try for a management position or continue on the technical path. After a few candid conversations with some managers, I decided that I was going to continue my journey on the technical path and, a few years later, started a master’s program in systems engineering. I also volunteered for leadership positions within SWE (from section officer all the way to the Board of Directors). I enjoyed the “management” interactions working with SWE members and stakeholders from across the Society. However, I felt more comfortable at work in engineering positions and retained my commitment to pursue the technical career path, where I was later appointed as a Boeing Technical Fellow.

Nationally and Globally, Women’s Participation in STEM Careers Continues to Be Less Than 25%. With Such Underrepresentation, What Were Your Experiences Meeting Other Women in STEM, and How Did That Fuel Your Passion to Encourage Girls and Women to Pursue STEM Education and Professions?

Interestingly enough, the college where I received my undergraduate had predominantly women in chemical engineering. Howard University (in Washington, D.C.) recruited women to study engineering a few years before I transferred into the department, so I didn’t feel underrepresented as a female undergraduate engineering student. However, once I was working, it was definitely male dominated for a while. I did make friends with some women engineers when I first started working at Boeing, and we are still close friends today; we travel together occasionally. When I was pregnant, I made friends with several women engineers who were expecting at the same time; we’re still friends today (although our children are grown). So those positive experiences inspired me to volunteer in STEM activities; for example, Expanding Your Horizons, where I gave presentations to middle school students.

I Would Like to Delve into Your Experiences a Bit More, Linda. I Imagine Howard University, One of Several Esteemed Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBU) in the U.S., Provided Not Only an Excellent Education, But Also a Welcoming, Inclusive Environment. As a Minority Woman Engineer in Corporate America, What Are Some Tips That Worked for You as You Navigated the Unique Challenges That Women of Color Face?

Living Without Limits With Linda Thomas, F. SWE
Linda with fellow SWE members Sandra Wood and Fran Stuart (right) during a 2023 Antarctic expedition

I found that connecting with people through hobbies and interests went a long way toward establishing relationships. There is a perception of what a person like me would be doing for fun. And I want to also dispel the notion of what hobbies and interests would be appropriate for someone like me. I’ve met longtime friends through music, photography, scuba diving, travel, whitewater rafting, hiking, skiing, volunteer work, and as I mentioned before, raising children. And of course, SWE. The other tip that worked for me was joining employee resource groups that were different from my own background. And in SWE, I am a member of other affinity groups — this is a networking opportunity and demonstrates your flexibility to learn about other cultures. Also, it prepares you to be a better advocate and an ally.

I Was so Inspired When I Learned About Your Endeavors Advocating and Supporting Girls and Women in STEM. Please Tell Us More About Some of Your “Passion Projects” and How That Came About.

Living Without Limits With Linda Thomas, F. SWE
Linda volunteering at a WE Local outreach event in San Jose

Outreach projects with primary and secondary students are always fun and memorable. I remember volunteering on Expanding Your Horizons for middle school girls with a project using citrus fruits plus table salt to clean metals. (Thanks to one of my colleague’s daughters, they helped me name the workshop “Cleaners You Can Eat”). During the last workshop, the students asked me, do you have any leftover fruit that we can eat? I said, “Of course,” and they selected fruit from the bags of lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit to enjoy later! My son was a student in a STEM magnet classroom, and the parents were offered volunteer positions to teach subjects during the day. Naturally, I volunteered for the science modules! I continued to teach these topics for a couple of years after my son moved on to middle school. And I’ve volunteered for outreach at WELocal for a couple of years. Since retirement, I started volunteering with the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair. The year, I started was during the COVID-19 shutdown, and the science fair turned into a virtual event. What impressed and touched me is how the primary students I judged were so poised and adaptable to making their virtual presentations. During the pandemic, I also volunteered with Purdue Polytechnic’s Techie Times virtual workshops. Most of my students were female, and they showed energy and bravery, and were motivated to succeed. I find joy in watching it all.

How Did Your Career Affect Your General Lifestyle?

Living Without Limits With Linda Thomas, F. SWE
Linda with four of her clarinets after a performance at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall

I taught students that engineering is the career that will help you make money, where you can dictate your lifestyle rather than the other way around. Through engineering, I have been able to pursue my hobbies, like photography, performing music, traveling, volunteering and also teaching in the community. When I was young (I recall before I left elementary school), I was determined to be a scientist and a musician. In retirement, I am living the dream that I set many years ago, continuing the interests I had during my career. Although my parents were not scientists, they had friends and relatives that were, and I was exposed to the potential during my childhood through college (e.g., an oceanographer, a manager for earthquake monitoring, science teachers, histology technician, and engineers). I was inspired by this potential and was undeterred from reaching my goals.

Having Traversed a Long, Successful Engineering Career and Finding New and Renewed Purpose in Your Advocacy, What Advice Do You Have for Your Younger Self, Specifically your 40-Year-Old Self? I Am Asking This for Readers Who May Be Approaching Later Career Stages and Thinking of Their Next Acts.

Have a plan for retirement. Think about all the things you want and like to do after your career ends. Think of your financial, physical, and mental health and how that will change after retirement, and how to plan for the retirement you want. One book that helped me through the decision process was Robin Ryan’s “Retirement Reinvention.” Although Robin’s book discusses retirement among the baby boomer generation, her philosophy is applicable to anyone wanting to find a meaningful post-career life. And there is nothing wrong with creating a bucket list. I have a travel bucket list and am making plans on how to complete it while I am able to travel!

We Met Each Other Through SWE and the Late Career Retiree Affinity Group. Why Do You Think These Two Groups Are Important to SWE and Its Members?

Living Without Limits With Linda Thomas, F. SWE
Linda with Hang Loi at WE23 Los Angeles

SWE needed this affinity group at least a decade ago. When I first got involved in SWE leadership, I was meeting the many women pioneers in the Society, among them SWE past presidents and Fellows. There were two events I recall where I had firsthand exposure to this impressive group of women: regional meetings and conferences, and the “Over the Hill Suite” during the annual conference. SWE recognized the need for creating this community through the affinity groups with the absence of regions and the suite. The LCR AG meets throughout the SWE fiscal year and arranges meetups at WE Local and at the annual conference. This is important for SWE in the spirit of inclusion and belonging. SWE must be seen as an organization serving members in all phases of their career, even after they have ceased to be employed.

One of My Favorite Quotes Is, “Be the Change You Wish to See,” Attributed to Gandhi. What Is One That Resonates With You?

There was a time when I felt nothing was going right for me personally and careerwise. I went to the local library to find a self-help book. During my search, I discovered a book written by one of my junior high school classmates, the motivational speaker Dr. Willie Jolley. The book’s title is “A Setback Is a Setup for a Comeback.” I firmly believe that success is nonlinear, and a setback does not mean defeat; it’s an opportunity for a rebound.

I love that, Linda. A great reminder for all of us that our journeys are nonlinear and to not give up!

For readers curious about SWE’s Affinity Groups, we have over 20 of these groups that are designed to bring together SWE members who share identities, interests, and goals. Check out to find the full lists and discover the ones that are right for you!

To get involved with the Late Career and Retiree Affinity Group and see all of our upcoming events, plus find links to join our Facebook group, sign up for our newsletter, and learn more about our volunteer subgroups, you can visit


  • Hang Loi

    In her 34 years at 3M Company, Hang Loi (she/her) led commercialization programs from concept through production-scale manufacturing, bringing life to products that brighten consumer electronics screens and increase pedestrian safety. An enthusiastic STEM advocate and champion of diversity and equity in the workplace, she embraces SWE’s mission and proud to be member of the inspiring LCR community! Hang holds dual degrees in chemical engineering and music from Case Western Reserve University and is on the Board of Directors for the Case Alumni Foundation.

  • Linda Thomas F. SWE

    Linda Thomas (she/her) retired from the Boeing Company in January 2020, a Technical Fellow and chemical regulatory risk assessment subject matter expert. Since retirement, Linda has continued STEM advocacy through online volunteer work with SWE, NSBE, and local community activities. She is currently serving her final year on the Senate in FY24. Linda, a native of Washington, D.C., received a BS in chemical engineering from Howard University and an MS in systems engineering and architecture from the University of Southern California. Linda’s hobbies include playing clarinet, photography, adventure travel, and gardening. She lives in the Seattle, Washington, area with her husband, Lee, and pet bird. Linda’s career accomplishments were recognized by SWE as a Fellow, 2016 Woman Engineer You Should Know, and the Distinguished Service Award. She was also featured in the Boeing 2014 Environment Report and their 2017 International Women’s Day campaign, #WomenMakeUsBetter.