Danielle Hilliard

Advocating Women in Engineering Award

Danielle Hilliard, Advocating Women in Engineering Award, Headshot

Danielle Hilliard

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

For stellar technical leadership that creates a culture of excellence; for pioneering diversity and inclusion initiatives; and for sharing valuable life lessons with up-and-coming women engineers.


Danielle Hilliard, a member of the Principal Professional Staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), is an aerospace systems engineer with 25 years of experience. She leads the APL Discovery Program, an innovative rotational program for recent college graduates. In this role, she is the manager and mentor of approximately 40 competitively selected, high-potential staff members for the first two years of their technical careers. Concurrently, she is a technical advisor for multiple military acquisition programs, space exploration, and innovation initiatives.

Previously, Hilliard was the supervisor of the APL Integrated Air and Missile Defense Systems Engineering group. Under her leadership, the group grew by 40%, and its work portfolio diversified, grew by 35% within three years, and was a technical advisor for a multifaceted portfolio of air and missile defense programs.

Prior to that, Hilliard held numerous program, project, and technical management positions, including program manager (PM) for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Sea-Based Terminal (SBT) Increments 1 and 2. As the PM, Hilliard was a key team member of a multi-organizational effort developing the U.S. Navy’s latest sea-based, terminal defense capability against ballistic missiles. She led a cross-functional team of analysts and engineers and was the lead engineer for the larger government systems engineering team.

From 2006 to 2012, her leadership roles included program manager for Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) programs in the APL National Security Analysis Department and project manager for the MDA Standard Missile-3 Block IIB. From 2001 to 2006, her technical leadership roles included Aegis Weapon System (AWS) project manager, AWS systems engineer, and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense technical advisor and link interoperability lead engineer. She led several influential analytic studies for the CNO in support of the annual Program Objective Memorandum process, substantially growing this aspect of JHUAPL’s work.

Hilliard also co-leads the diversity and inclusion (D&I) team for the research and exploratory development department at APL, and frequently speaks at engineering D&I conferences.

Prior to joining APL in 2001, Hilliard held engineering positions with Systems Planning and Analysis Inc., Naval Sea Systems Command, and Cessna, while serving as a U.S. Army reservist from 1993 to 2000.

Dedicated to STEM outreach, Hilliard is a Project Lead the Way Women in Engineering mentor for the Howard County, Maryland, public school system. Through the APL STEM office, she serves as a judge and mentor for Maryland Math, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), performs mock interviews and reviews essays for the APL college prep program, and is an instructor for the APL STEM Academy. She is an active member of the Tuskegee University Engineering Alumni Association and The Council of Elders of the Black Community of Howard County.

A SWE member and mentor, Hilliard is also a member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Her honors include Letters of Commendation from the U.S. Navy and MDA. In recognition of her STEM outreach, she received a Maryland Parent Teacher Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and a Black Engineer of the Year Award in 2012.

Hilliard holds a B.S. in aerospace science engineering from Tuskegee University and an M.S. in information and telecommunications systems management from Capitol Technology University (formerly Capitol College). She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in technology and product management from Capitol Technology University. She is married to Tony, who is also an aerospace engineer, and they have three children.