UCLA Mechanical Engineering Alumna on Redefining Success to Achieve Work-Life Balance

Michelle Styczynski

UCLA Samueli

Mar 19, 2024

UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Michelle Styczynski ’03, M.S. ’07 is used to grappling with high expectations, some of which are deeply rooted in her “East-meets-West” cultural upbringing, with a Chinese immigrant mother from Vietnam and an American father of Polish heritage.

From an early age, it was clear to Styczynski just how different the two sides of her family were, especially when it came to holidays and parenting. Like many traditional Chinese parents, her mother was laser-focused on academic success, with straight A’s being the expectation. In addition to her regular schooling, Styczynski took piano lessons and went to Chinese school on the weekends to learn Cantonese and Mandarin. She and her younger siblings also had to adhere to a strict weekly chore schedule designed to instill in them the kind of self-discipline and work ethic required for a successful future.

“I am the oldest child, so I got the most pressure and attention from my mother to succeed,” Styczynski said of her childhood in San Jose, California. She carried that discipline with her through two degrees at UCLA and a successful career at defense company Raytheon, an RTX business.

Styczynski excelled in school, showing an early aptitude for math and science. On the weekends and summers during high school, she would work with her father, a mechanical engineer, at his machine shop in Silicon Valley. 

“It was a phenomenal way to be curious and learn,” Styczynski said. “My dad would always tell me that I could design anything I wanted as a 3D model, but the reality of bringing that to life in the factory was another thing.”

Inspired by her father, Styczynski chose mechanical engineering as her major and fulfilled her longtime dream of becoming a Bruin. 

“UCLA provided me the tools to figure out how I was going to be an independent, thriving person who contributes to society,” Michelle Styczynski said.

“I remember seeing photos of the campus, watching movies where the school was featured, and reading and hearing about all the greatness that is UCLA,” Styczynski said. “Going to UCLA enabled me to be the right distance from home, while also having my independence in the heart of LA.”

But it wasn’t a smooth transition as Styczynski had initially pictured, going from being a straight-A student in high school to a struggling freshman at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.

“I found it very difficult transitioning from high school to college and really underestimated how much time I needed to focus on studying,” Styczynski recalled. After a serious conversation with her mother, who advised Styczynski to refocus on her studies, she followed her mother’s advice and utilized resources around her to improve her academic performance. 

“That experience, although a tough time for me, really taught me what I was made of,” Styczynski said. “UCLA first set the stage for me that if I wanted to do something, whatever it was, I could, and that has formed how I approach my career to this day and what I teach my children.”

Once she regained her academic standing, Styczynski explored a broad range of experiences outside her engineering curriculum. She was elected to student government, serving as a general representative in the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council. She also worked as a resident assistant for campus housing and as a video assistant in UCLA’s athletic department. 

“UCLA provided me the tools to figure out how I was going to be an independent, thriving person who contributes to society. From the first day stepping on the UCLA campus, I had to make choices and learn from my mistakes that helped develop me into the person I am today,” Styczynski said. “Without the independence that UCLA afforded me, and the UCLA Samueli engineering program, I would not be as successful as I am today.”

Upon graduating with her bachelor’s in 2003, Styczynski had difficulty finding work due to a slump in the economy, so she decided to pursue a master’s degree at UCLA. It was during that time she came across Raytheon at a career fair at UCLA. An invitation to the company’s College Day not only led to three job offers, but Raytheon also offered to pay for her graduate education should she decide to join the company. 

“That was the day my career at Raytheon started,” Styczynski said. “I could never have imagined the incredible career and opportunities that would come my way from working at Raytheon. I can still say that every day at Raytheon is very different, so rewarding and never boring.”

“When you want to be successful in both your personal and work life, you have to modify what you think success is,” Styczynski said. “Every day is a give and take — nothing is perfect, and I’ve embraced being imperfect.”

Over the last 20-plus years, Styczynski rose through the ranks at Raytheon, having worked across a variety of fields — engineering, operations, program management and supply chain. In February, she was appointed vice president of operations and supply chain in the company’s advanced products and solutions division. 

In a January speech to a group of UCLA Samueli students who graduated from the Women in Engineering at UCLA’s Leadership Academy program, Styczynski, a mother of two young children, shared that she had to work hard to change her definitions of perfection and success to protect her work-life balance and mental health.

“When you want to be successful in both your personal and work life, you have to modify what you think success is,” Styczynski said. “Every day is a give and take — nothing is perfect, and I’ve embraced being imperfect. I make choices every day regarding whether or not I’m going to spend another hour or two working or if I am going to focus on my family. Some days are better than others but, in the end, it all evens out.”

For UCLA Samueli students seeking career advice, Styczynski encourages fellow Bruins to be fearless in reaching out to those they admire and take a leap of faith.

“I always say ‘you never know if you don’t ask,’ so be unforgivingly clear about what career you may want because people can’t read minds,” Styczynski said. “If you want something, ask for it, but also recognize when something isn’t working for you so you can also be fearless about making a change.”

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