September 9, 2007Her job: Associate Professor, Michigan Technological University
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I am a mechanical engineering professor. I work with graduate students on research projects involving the development of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). We do a lot of laboratory experiments and computer analysis. I also teach classes on manufacturing topics.
Why did you choose engineering?
I liked doing hands-on things when I was young. In high school, my favorite classes were physics and math. Based on these interests, my dad (who is an engineer) suggested that I might like engineering.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I received a BS from Duke University and MS and Ph.D. degrees from North Carolina State University.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
When I worked in the auto industry, much of my work involved communicating with people from other companies, from factories, or other engineers within my company. Working at a university as a graduate student and now as a professor has allowed me to do more hands-on work and spend less time doing paperwork or making phone calls. My job as a professor has a lot of variety. In addition to the laboratory activities, I spend a lot of time reading about the latest technology developments, writing about my research, giving presentations about my research, preparing material for classes, teaching classes, and meeting with students.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I like the math. I enjoy using computers and equations to explain things.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I'm proudest of having made a positive impact on many students' lives.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
Engineering requires a lot of persistence. Large projects last several years, so it sometimes takes awhile for your work to bear fruit. I've become better at focusing on the small pieces that will eventually add up to the big result. Another challenge has been to become a better communicator. Engineering may seem like a good career for introverts, but I've learned that more work gets accomplished when I communicate and collaborate regularly with others.
Please tell us a little about your family.
My dad is a retired metallurgical engineer. After retiring from General Motors, he taught a class at a local university for several years. My mom was a fifth grade teacher before becoming a full-time mom. She has many cultural interests and regularly gives tours at the local art museum. I have one sister one year younger than me who works in the financial services industry. I have a dog named Scooter.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
My short-term goal is to gain expertise in microsystems--a new research area for me. The technology of small things will be especially important in the years to come. My long-term goals are to continue to learn new things, to become a great teacher, and to do worthwhile research.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My parents, with engineering and teaching backgrounds, definitely had the greatest influence on my life choices. The experience of going to graduate school opened my eyes to research--an engineering career that I hadn't given consideration to before.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
The opportunities for great jobs are endless. There are many challenging problems to work on; find one that matches your interests and then find people to learn from.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love sports and spending time outside. My town is a great place for golf, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and skiing.