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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Jonathan Hijuelos

Jonathan HijuelosJonathan Hijuelos, a systems engineer in APL's Force Projection Department, is quick to point out that while he is of Hispanic heritage, he doesn't speak much Spanish. His grandfather, who immigrated to New Orleans from Mexico as a youth, made a conscious effort to fit into his new surroundings, and using English was his first priority. He encouraged the use of English among future generations too—but his wife, Hijuelos' Honduran grandmother, kept their Hispanic culture and traditions alive.

"Our family is very tight-knit, and all of us go to my grandmother's house for every holiday and every birthday. More than 20 of us cram into her kitchen for each celebration and enjoy the traditional foods she cooks. On New Year's she makes over 100 tamales and we help to deliver a bunch to family and friends," says Hijuelos. Hijuelos' grandmother spends all of the previous day cooking the traditional Honduran food, preparing the masa (dough made from corn) and wrapping the tamales in giant banana leaves.

Leaving that large, extended family in New Orleans after graduating from Tulane University wasn't an easy choice, but Hijuelos was excited about the prospect of working at the Laboratory. "I flew to APL for an interview and connected right away," says Hijuelos. He took a job in 2003 in the materials testing lab and immediately put his training in mechanical engineering to use, testing and inspecting materials for various programs, primarily for the Space and National Security Technology departments.

After two experience-building years in the materials lab, Hijuelos tested his engineering skills under the sea, joining the Ocean Data Acquisition Program as a project manager and systems engineer—installing and testing systems on submarines. Since 2009, he has been project manager and lead systems engineer for the Persistent Ground Surveillance System (PGSS). PGSS is the quick-reaction, rapidly fielded, aerostat-mounted surveillance package deployed 2000 feet above small, remote forward operating bases. PGSS, for which APL was the system architect and engineer, is equipped with a robust and multi-sensor-capable gondola.

When he's not solving critical challenges for APL sponsors, Hijuelos is climbing rocks or playing on one of two area soccer teams. "I have had a love for soccer from a young age, starting as a kid with my father as my coach," says Hijuelos.