Cecilia Breda Helps Open Doors and Inspire Others

Engineer paves the way for a new generation’s success


For Maria Cecilia de Castro Breda, a continued commitment to volunteering isn’t just about what she does. It’s about who she is.

The Brazilian native and accomplished engineer has been recognized with her company’s Inspire Volunteering Award for efforts to support youth through mentoring and a variety of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities.

Portrait of Maria Cecilia de Castro Breda
Maria Cecilia de Castro Breda

Breda began working at John Deere as an engineer in 2011 and has spent over a decade giving back in ways that prepare future generations for success and opening doors to aspiring female engineers across the globe. She says her deeply rooted desire to volunteer was instilled from a young age.

“I grew up understanding how important it was to support and help other people,” Breda says.

Spreading Opportunities

Shortly after starting with John Deere, Breda became aware of an organization known as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). SWE’s mission is to empower women to achieve their full potential as engineers and leaders. Breda was immediately impressed by the organization’s impact.

“I wondered, ‘How do we not have this kind of thing in Brazil?’” she recalls.

Breda quickly took it upon herself to change that reality. In 2014, with Breda as a guiding force, SWE opened its first affiliate in Brazil.

Today the organization has five professional affiliates and multiple university affiliates in the South American country. In addition, it has launched a presence in multiple other Latin American nations, including Argentina and Mexico.

When she is asked about her philanthropic efforts, Breda is quick to deflect praise and draw attention to her roots.

“I am very, very close to my parents,” she says. “They are my life mentors.”

Breda’s mother was a teacher who instilled the importance of pursuing education. Her father was a woodworker who helped spark his daughter’s curiosity about the way things work.

“I always wondered, ‘How does this work? And why does this work like this?” Breda recalls. “He made me want to create things that made a better world.”

Overcoming Hurdles

Breda knows that getting more people involved in engineering will yield widespread benefits.

“When you have diverse teams working together, you end up with much better results,” she says. “Diverse teams are more productive, and they are better on making decisions, as they offer broader perspectives and bring more information to the table.”

But she emphasizes volunteering isn’t just about the outcome. She also savors the little moments along the way when she gets to spend time with aspiring engineers and observe their growth.

Breda vividly recalls a day when she asked a group of young girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. At the beginning of the day, most girls declared that they wanted to be a doctor or an artist. At the end of the program, after learning about the possibilities in engineering, one small child approached Breda and humbly inquired, “Is it really true that I can be an engineer one day?’”

For Breda, it’s moments like these that fuel her fire and remind her of the broader purpose behind her philanthropic mission. And to her, bringing these opportunities to life means understanding — and confronting — the challenges ahead.

“It’s about identifying the barriers and then helping people overcome them,” says Breda.