Ryan Gibson, technical lead engineer at The Boeing Company, receives the Steven M. Atkins Ability and Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology (AASET) Award from 2017 SAE President Douglas Patton.

A career in aviation and advocacy takes flight

Hearing-impaired Boeing engineer wins prestigious SAE award for achievement and leadership

For as long as he can remember, Ryan Gibson has wanted to work in the aircraft industry. Raised in an aviation family—his grandfather trained pilots during World War II, his father was a commercial pilot and flight instructor, and his mother and two uncles all have pilot licenses—there was only one thing standing in his way of becoming a pilot himself: Gibson was born deaf.

But he didn’t let that stop him from following his dream. Gibson decided to pursue a career designing aircraft instead.

“Being a deaf individual in a hearing world and taking on the overwhelming difficulties in the engineering field tested my limits,” he said. “However, after years of hard work, I earned my engineering degree and an MBA. Not long afterward, my dream was fulfilled when I secured a position with The Boeing Company.”

In his role as technical lead engineer, Gibson is the equipment manager and subject-matter expert for passenger information signs, electrical dimmable windows, photo-luminescent floor strips and miscellaneous lights. He is a payloads design approval engineer and program manager for seven suppliers, and he is responsible for development of new products, troubleshooting of production and fleet issues, and onboarding of new lighting suppliers.

In addition to excelling in his professional role, Gibson has also focused his efforts on advocating for disability inclusion within Boeing. He cofounded the Boeing Deaf Employees and Friends community and the United States Business Leadership Network External Technical Affiliation Group within Boeing, and he helped establish the use of on-site sign language interpreters for mechanics and engineers, as well as the standard use of videophones across the enterprise for every deaf employee’s workspace.

“Today, Ryan is viewed as a leader not only on account of his role as a 787 engineer, innovator and subject matter expert, but also because of his dedicated emphasis on pursuing disability inclusion at The Boeing Company,” said William Harkness, a senior strategist at Boeing. “He has initiated or been directly involved with influential programs that are now an established process within Boeing, and in recognition of his conviction to succeed and his commitment to enterprise-wide inclusion, The Boeing Company has honored him with their highest diversity awards: The Global Diversity Change Agent Award in 2013 and 2015, the Global Diversity Process Improvement Award in 2013, and two Team Diversity and Inclusion Champion Awards in 2016.”

Now, Gibson can add another award to his impressive resume: The Steven M. Atkins Ability and Achievement in Science, Engineering and Technology (AASET) Award. Granted by SAE International, which, since its founding in 1905 has established and operated programs recognizing outstanding achievements in the design, engineering and production of vehicles and their components, systems and materials, this award recognizes the significant technical achievements brought about by innovation, leadership and inspiration of employees with disabilities working in the aerospace engineering industry.

“On a personal level, this award reflects the journey that I have undertaken to knock down barriers to accomplish my career goals—as well as the many people who have shared my journey and helped along the way,” Gibson said. “I hope this award can bring attention to some of the great work being done to advance diversity and inclusion and to make workplaces and resources more accessible and available to people with disabilities. After all, people with disabilities are accustomed to solving problems; they have a natural talent in re-evaluating engineering obstacles and finding a path to success.”

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