“Some people know from a really early age what they want to do,” says Frances Vallejo ’87. “I was not one of them.”
But a summer program at Mines for minority high school students changed all that for the Pueblo, Colo., native.
“It exposed me to geology, geophysics, mining and many engineering disciplines. I learned how to program in Fortran, and this was before we even had computers in my high school.”
The program in which she was enrolled, the Summer Minority Engineering Training (SUMMET) program, provided the impetus for what would turn into a distinguished career, which has seen Vallejo rise steadily through the ranks at ConocoPhillips. Starting as a geophysicist after graduating from Mines, she moved to the business side as a finance associate, and then became manager of strategic transactions, assistant treasurer and other upper management positions. She is now vice president and treasurer for the company.
In fact, the impact of Mines on Vallejo’s life extends far beyond providing that first glimpse into a new and different world. It’s where she met her husband, Scott Irvine ’87, during field camp the summer before her senior year. It’s where, through The McBride Honors Program in Public Affairs, she was first exposed to what she calls ’the business world beyond engineering,’ an exposure she says influenced her decision to take a leave of absence from work and enroll full-time in Rice University’s MBA program. And it’s where, today, she returns at least six times a year, as the most recent appointee to the school’s board of trustees.
Professor Barbara Olds, who taught Vallejo in the McBride program and with whom she still keeps in touch, says that as a student Vallejo “possessed both the self-confidence and the humility to succeed in any path she chose. It’s been a joy to follow her career.”
Speaking of humility, mention to Vallejo that she was valedictorian of her high school class, and she’s quick to correct: ‘co-valedictorian.’ The prestigious full-ride Boettcher Scholarship she was awarded to attend college? “It provided the resources necessary to go to Mines.” Being named Outstanding Senior of The McBride Honors Program at Mines, Female Executive of the Year in 2009 by the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and being referred to as a ‘Woman Worth Watching in 2011’ by the Profiles in Diversity Journal, not to mention receiving numerous awards along the way at ConocoPhillips?
The mother of three says she hasn’t particularly sought the accolades and advancement she’s earned. She’s focused on her job duties, not her next promotion.
“I tell my kids, if you work hard, have talent and do your job, you’ll be recognized.”
Vallejo serves on a number of volunteer boards in Houston, including Teach For America. “My father and his mother were both superintendents of schools, so I always knew I wanted to be involved in education somehow.” And, coming full circle, she has presented at programs that expose minority kids to engineering, including once taking a four-week leave from ConocoPhillips to teach at SUMMET.
“The program had such an impact on me and my life. I enjoy spreading the word and encouraging these kids to pursue technical careers.”
And who better than Vallejo to promote the message?