Queen Ohio Aims to Build Kingdom of Industry

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Candys Mayo’s path to entrepreneurship – to her chosen vocation, engineering – was neither simple nor obvious. In fact, it was presented to her as a challenge, she says.

Mayo launched her firm, Quinn Engineering & Employment Network LLC – or Queen Ohio – in June 2015, the latest step in a journey that began in high school.

Mayo, a 1999 graduate of The Rayen School, said her introduction to engineering came through the school’s tech-prep program, which placed students in introductory engineering courses during their junior and senior years.

“It was put before me a challenge,” she says, after she became pregnant during her sophomore year.

“I got good grades and I was a pretty good kid, and my guidance counselors kind of put it before me,” she continues. “So many girls have children and they don’t return to school. So I stepped up to that challenge and met it.”

Engineering was “something different,” she adds. “I just knew I didn’t want to do hair or be a nurse or any of the traditional things that women get into.”

After earning an associate’s degree in computer-aided drafting and design from ITT Technical Institute, she landed a position with defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. and moved to Newport News, Va., where the company had just opened a shipbuilding corridor.

“I’ve been all over the place working,” she says. She was with Northrop Grumman eight years, then ended up with its shipbuilding spinoff Huntington Ingalls Industries. She also worked at shipyards in Wisconsin and Seattle, in the oil and gas industry in Houston, and later in Florida.

A black woman, she allows that when she got her first job not many of her fellow workers looked like her – neither women nor minorities are well represented in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It is very easy to make a work environment unwelcoming just from things that are said – not intentionally or overtly, but sometimes it happens,” says Kori Verhalen, president of the National Society of Professional Engineers. “People are much more attuned to the words they are using but there’s always room for improvement.”

Improvement is taking place. Verhalen – who earned her baccalaureate in chemical engineering in 2004 before receiving a law degree – said her program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth had a “really good representation of minorities and women.”

The firm where she worked before becoming a lawyer – she practices in the energy section of the Biggs and Morgan law firm – also had a “good mix” of women and minorities in the engineering department.

Both are well represented in the leadership of her firm, she adds.

“When I first graduated from my engineering program, I had a female engineer who had given me some advice,” Verhalen recalls. “While I appreciated her perspective, I definitely didn’t see the things she experienced,” such as the discrimination she endured when she had children in the early 1980s and took time off.

“In my own experience, I haven’t seen a lot of obstacles,” she says.

While matters weren’t as bad as she feared early on, Mayo’s work experience “definitely came with its challenges because I was in the South,” she says. “But you persevere and you get by.”

Early on, Mayo she encountered another black woman from Youngstown, Linda Gooden, at the time a vice president with Lockheed Martin Corp., with whom she connected and served as a mentor.

“That kind of made it easier to say, ‘If she could do it, so could I,’ ” she says.

Along the way, Mayo picked up her baccalaureate in computer information systems and a master’s in project management. Her experience in project management led her to start her own firm.

“I started making some of the more important decisions about the project that I was working on, and I really enjoyed that portion of it,” she says. Tired of being overlooked and “being just as qualified as the people who got them,” she decided to return to Youngstown to launch her business.

Mayo participated in the most recent WE Launch class offered by the Youngstown Business Incubator’s Women in Entrepreneurship program. Since participating, she has launched a research and development/product development process and is working with local inventors on products. She is also seeking government engineering contracts and has registered with the Department of Defense so she can place bids. And she has restructured her accounting system.

“I have learned so much,” she said. “It’s been invaluable.”

Among Mayo’s goals is to help rebuild the industrial base of the Steel Valley by bringing these types of projects.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.