Asian American Engineer of the Year Awards
Most Promising Engineer

Ms. Melissa Sandlin
Sector VP & General Manager, Engineering,
Manufacturing & Logistics (Electronic Systems Sector)

Northrop Grumman Corporation


Melissa Sandlin, born in Seoul, South Korea, was adopted by the Sandlin family at the age of 5 months. She grew up in Kankakee, Illinois, the third of four adopted children. Melissa was always an excellent student and she graduated valedictorian of Kankakee High School in 1991. 

In high school, a summer enrichment program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign helped Melissa discover engineering. The two-week camp introduced minority students to the engineering fields offered by the University.  During the camp, Melissa toured a laboratory where industrial robots were busy building plastic replicas of themselves. In that moment, she was hooked. Five years later, she was studying in that very same lab. That summer experience shaped not only Melissas career path in manufacturing automation, but also her commitment to discovering and fostering the engineers of tomorrow.

After earning her BS in Mechanical Engineering at University of Illinois, Melissa received an MS degree at Georgia Institute of Technology, concentrating on machine vision and automation for the food processing industry.

Melissa made her mark in engineering first in telecommunications, where she was first, a mechanical designer for Lucent Technologies, and later a manufacturing engineer for Corvis Corporation, Columbia MD. In the former position, at the Lucent laboratory in Makuhari, Japan, she was able to apply her major studies in engineering, but also her minor studies in Japanese. 

Melissa then joined her current employer, Northrop Grumman Corporation, where she again demonstrated her engineering expertise and professional drive. As a process engineer, she was responsible for an x-ray inspection process, examining the quality of solder joints in military electronics. She then became a project engineer, following a single product through its entire life cycle. In this role, she addressed a wide range of issues, from material vendor problems to manufacturing process problems. She led several cost reduction and yield improvement project teams for her product, the Joint Strike Fighter Transmit/Receive Module. In the course of her work, she earned a Six Sigma Green Belt.

The quality of her work has earned her praise and recognition, but she is the first to admit that she could not have done it without the help of mentors. She readily pays that help forward to the next generation of students. Melissa volunteers for DiscoverE, a program that introduces engineering to grade school through high school students. She also leads the WORTHY Program, a high school mentoring program aimed at inner city students. She feels that the opportunities that were afforded to her should be available to every student. She recognizes that nothing is more important than helping future generations shape their future and, at the same time, the future of engineering.