The Importance of Mentors: John Monroe ’79

When retired Boeing executive John Monroe ’79 talks with high school students about careers in aerospace, he enjoys telling them he started at $1.92 an hour. “Their jaws kind of drop,” says Monroe. He goes on to tell them that, 37 years later, he was in charge of Boeing’s 777 airliner program. 

Monroe, 74, has been doing that since 2003, when he retired from Boeing and became a volunteer with the Everett (Wash.) School District’s Career and Technical Education program. He now chairs the advisory board for the program, which emphasizes academics and real-life skills for high-demand regional careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). 

John Monroe ’79 (in front of Everett High School) works with students who are thinking of careers in aerospace.
John Monroe ’79 (in front of Everett High School) works with students who are thinking of careers in aerospace.

When the pandemic scuttled summer plans for on-site internships, Monroe proposed a project to his high school juniors: What ideas did they have to get people back into planes? Over two months, “these kids did research, did evaluations—problem-solving. They came back with questions; I answered them. Then we’d talk careers.” 

Boeing’s announcement in 2020 that it’s moving its 787 Dreamliner production line from Everett to South Carolina also provided a teachable moment. “Don’t get all hung up on aerospace,” Monroe told the students. “There is space exploration, there is defense, there is clean tech. Think about the skills you need and how to adapt.” 

Monroe was a low-skilled high school graduate at Boeing when he found mentors like eventual Boeing vice chairman Raymond Conner M.B.A.’86, among others. They urged Monroe to continue his education at Everett Community College and then Puget Sound, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Monroe worked full time, squeezing in classes during lunchtimes and evenings. 

“I don’t think you can get anywhere in this world without mentors,” says Monroe. “That’s one of the values that I have in trying to give back to the students today.” 

 

By Meri-Jo Borilleri
Photo by Sy Bean
Published Feb. 7, 2021