Sandia Labs News Releases

Award-winning Sandia engineer traded sewing for a shot at science

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pierrette Gorman built a successful career as a seamstress and tailor, working her way from bridal and clothing stores to owning a business in upstate New York. But she wanted more. “I wanted a college education and had a goal,” Gorman said. She wanted to be an engineer.

“I knew my ability as a seamstress and differentiated myself from a home sewer,” she said. “I excelled in science and math, and there is a lot of engineering in tailoring. I especially enjoyed working with people who had disfigurements, and I could pad and fit their clothing so they looked complete.”

Pierrette Gorman, a Sandia National Laboratories engineer, says welding is a great career for women of any age. “Sometimes I’ll speak at colleges and the guys will come up and say they are going to talk to their moms about it,” she said. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Gorman started college in her 40s. She earned a degree in welding engineering, worked in industry and found her way to Sandia National Laboratories.

Gorman recently was named the winner of a 2016 STEP Ahead award by the Manufacturing Institute. The institute in 2012 launched the Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) Ahead initiative to honor and promote the role of women in the manufacturing industry as researchers and leaders. The national honor identifies the best women in manufacturing and encourages them to mentor and support the next generation of women in manufacturing careers.

“It’s great to bring this award to Sandia,” said Gorman, who will be honored April 21 in Washington, D.C. “Women who have received it in the past are from major companies like Toyota [Motor Corp.] and 3M. I’m proud to add Sandia to that list.”

Welding was the best fit

Gorman said she’s also proud to have started college later in life. She moved from New York to Utah in the early 1990s and left her business behind to enroll in a pre-engineering program at Salt Lake Community College, earning an associate’s degree. “That was where I first heard welding mentioned as a profession,” she said. “But I discounted it at the time.”

She was accepted into The Ohio State University College of Engineering, where she looked into various disciplines. Welding was the best fit. “They had 100 percent placement and they promised me I wouldn’t sit in an office all day long. I’d spend time in a lab, production floor or field,” Gorman said.

While in school, Gorman worked at the Edison Welding Institute in Columbus, Ohio, a 120-mile commute. “If you want something bad enough, you do what you have to do to get it,” she said. “And I absolutely wanted it.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in welding engineering and worked for three years at Buffalo, New York-based Greatbatch, which makes implantable batteries for pacemakers, cochlear implants and defibrillators.

In 1999, her husband’s work brought Gorman to Albuquerque and a job in industry. She joined Sandia three years later as a welding and soldering process engineer in neutron generators. She moved two and a half years ago to a research and development job in Metallurgy & Materials Joining.

Women make great welders

Gorman takes time to mentor young women interested in welding because that was missing in her life. “In high school, girls were not allowed to take mechanical drawing,” she said. “There were absolutely no mentors.”

She speaks at high schools and community colleges, letting women know they can have careers in technical areas. And she’s on the board of directors of the American Welding Society with a district that stretches to Idaho and Montana, which gives her other opportunities to mentor women.

“Welding is thought of as a man’s field,” she said. “There is a huge need for all the different facets of welding careers, from engineers to solderers to inspectors. There are more jobs than people to fill them. The gap is huge and this is where we really need to get the word out to women that this is a good career. Women make great welders. It’s a precision skill.”

Gorman said she often speaks to young women but would like to reach out as well to women in their 30s and 40s, perhaps displaced homemakers who didn’t go to college. “I want to show them they can do it, and how they can do it,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll speak at colleges and the guys will come up and say they are going to talk to their moms about it.”

Gorman said that even though she started welding late, she has plenty of time for a full, rich career. “I feel like I accomplished my No. 1 goal of getting a college degree. Next, I feel I’m still learning and excited. My career is still young.”

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Nancy Salem,, (505) 844-2739