You Are Not Here By Accident

| February 6, 2019

Linnie Haynesworth, USC Viterbi’s 2019 Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, pens a letter to her younger Trojan self.

Linnie Haynesworth, USC Viterbi, Viterbi Awards, Electrical Engineering

Linnie Haynesworth, USC Viterbi’s 2019 Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, at her graduation from USC in 1980. (PHOTO CREDIT: Linnie Haynesworth)

Linnie Haynesworth, B.S. ’80, first joined Northrop Grumman as an intern from USC and today is sector vice president and general manager of the Cyber and Intelligence Mission Solutions division. Because of her, it is no longer unusual to see a woman or person of color responsible for billions of dollars and thousands of employees at one of the largest aerospace and defense companies in the world. But in 1977, Linnie was just a young, slightly shy undergraduate from Detroit who came to USC to study electrical engineering.

In this letter, Linnie – recipient of the 2019 Mark A. Stevens Distinguished Alumni Award – shares some advice with her younger self:


Dear Linnie,

As you begin life at USC Viterbi, you should be proud of how hard you’ve worked to get here. You’re a young woman with a lot of confidence. You’ve had a job since you were 14 years old, which has taught you how to balance time and meet responsibilities. You stay positive and focused on your goals no matter what you face. But there are new challenges ahead: difficult coursework, jam-packed schedules, and initially, isolation.

Pursuing a degree in electrical engineering in 1980, will be far from easy, but I’m happy to report that you will find the path rewarding and joyful! Here’s some advice to get you on your way:

CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Doing the hard stuff is hard!  Cass Technical High School in Detroit taught you to look for new ways to challenge yourself academically, and you’ve chosen electrical engineering, one of the most difficult paths for any student. Continue to embrace hard work and don’t waste time on self-doubt. You are not here by accident. You have proven yourself worthy to be a student at USC Viterbi.  You can do this, right now, with more intention and at a higher level than you may realize.

YOU WILL FAIL. LEARN FROM IT.  Reject the fear of failure. Everybody fails, and everybody is afraid to fail. It might seem like you’re the only one feeling this way, but you’re not. Remember that perfection is not required – persistence is! As women, sometimes our greatest barrier is the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect. Get that line of thinking out of your head now! Perfection is not in any job description that I’ve ever seen. If you see something you want, go after it. Don’t wait until you or the situation meets the definition of perfection.

Linnie Haynesworth, Northrup Grumman USC Viterbi

Linnie, at her first day of work as a Northrop Grumman intern in 1980 (PHOTO CREDIT: LINNIE HAYNESWORTH).

DON’T ISOLATE YOURSELF.  An engineering path can be isolating, especially when you’re the only woman and person of color in many of your classes. Lean on friends and family. Not to spoil the surprise, but soon, the only other African-American woman in your chemistry class, Monique Hunter, will take time to introduce herself to you and expose you to campus life beyond the classroom. The lifelong friendship that will come from this single gesture will prove that one person’s kindness can have a profound and lasting impact on the life of another. Pay attention to those around you and take time to connect.

Realize the value of developing your engineering network. Seek out mentors. Connect with as many people as you can – those who think like you, those who think differently from you and those who do not look like you. Leveraging diversity of thought will be critical to your success and the success of the teams you lead.

GET COMFORTABLE WITH DISCOMFORT. Every accomplishment comes with some discomfort. And there will be things in life that will be uncomfortable but MUST BE DONE.  Get used to that feeling and establish mechanisms to work through it. Remember: the more you do something uncomfortable, the more comfortable you will be doing it.

LEAD FROM WHERE YOU SIT. I know you just arrived on campus and how shy you are. But understand that even now, there are ways to provide leadership at USC. All you have to do is speak up and engage. I learned to do this after college, while working at Northrop Grumman. You don’t have to wait as long as I did. Believe me when I tell you that you have the ability right now to lead and help others do their best. Your voice matters. Use it.

GET YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUDS.  Deep focus is important. But so is broad perspective. Knowing what’s going on in the vast space beyond your books will make you a better engineer. Remember to overtly and purposefully connect with diverse thinkers. If that makes you uncomfortable, well…just remember what I said about discomfort!

Linnie, you’re on a challenging but wildly satisfying course. Be confident and bold during your time at USC.  You will be honing your skills in critical thinking, ability to focus, and leading teams, but you will also learn how to make a positive difference in the world around you and beyond. 

Embrace and enjoy the journey.

Linnie Haynesworth today, at Northrop Grumman headquarters in Virginia (PHOTO CREDIT: Northrop Grumman).

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