November 2, 2016Her job: OnShore Technology Group, Inc - CEO
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I am CEO of a Chicago-based IT services company in Chicago. Our primary business is Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V) services for life sciences and government entities. IV&V is a rigorous process designed to test complex enterprise software applications and mobile technologies.
Why did you choose engineering?
I choose engineering to be DIFFERENT. I wanted a non-traditional career. When I was young, many girls my age were going into fields including secretarial, business administration, housekeeping, clerical and other "women"-oriented fields. I wanted to do something different. My brother was playing with Legos and I was playing with Barbie. Legos were more fun! I was always curious about the way things worked and at the time, I did not like my life circumstances. My mom always told me to get and education to rise from poverty. I thought if I have to go to school, I will make it count. I selected engineering and I am so glad I did.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
University of Wisconsin - Madison
B.S. in Civil & Environmental Engineering (1982)
Distinguished Alumni - UW College of Engineering (2008)
Lifetime Achievement Award UW College of Engineering Construction Club (2010)
Keller Graduate School of Management
MBA Information Systems (1985)
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
Today's business environment demands the use of advanced mobile and enterprise technologies. I do a lot of work with computers including software testing which is the core of my business. I get to work with the latest technologies to understand how they work and how we can help them work better. I get to go to a lot of conference, meetings, and industry forums highlighting the latest technology. I am fascinated by the ways in which latest technology has affected the way we live. I travel a lot throughout North America and the rest of the world. I do a lot of public speaking and teaching as part of my work.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I like the independence it brings and the fact that I get to solve problems that affect people every day. I like the fact that as an engineer, I have to think logically and get to see places and people that I would not have otherwise seen/met.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I was tapped as Chief Marketing Officer for Qumas Limited in Cork Ireland. I also served as Director of Architecture/Engineering/Construction for Intergraph Corporation - one of the most fun jobs I have ever had. As a result of meritorious performance, I was awarded a trip to Northern Europe for 8 weeks to deliver Intergraph technology to companies there. I loved it! I also was Director at Abbott Labs. I won Abbott's Chairman's Award (the highest honor granted to employees by Abbott) not once but twice! One of my biggest and most precious achievements is receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Engineering and the Life Time Achievement Award from the U.W. Construction Club. I love my alma mater and it meant so much to me to receive this from UW College of Engineering. Also, I have the distinction of being the first black female civil and environmental engineering graduate from the UW College of Engineering. Recently, I received the honor of Speaker of the Year from the Institute of Validation Technology.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
I came from humble beginnings. I grew up in Chicago's housing projects. I attended one of Chicago's worst public high schools - notorious for gang violence and poor academic standards. Although the schools standards were not up to par, I had outstanding teachers who took interest in me and helped me appreciate the value of an education.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I was raised in a 2-parent home but my father passed when I was 7 years old. My mom is my role model. She had an excellent work ethic and told me always to strive to do my best. I have one sister and one brother. My brother was in the air force and graduated high school in his sophomore year. My sister was also brilliant and an avid reader. Our family is very close knit and my parents always placed a high value on education as a way out of the ghetto.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
Short term, I would like to continue to develop our new system for computer systems validation. Long term, I would like to travel the world with my husband, watch my grand kids grow up and see my daughter graduate from medical school and watch my son build his game development company into the greatest company ever.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
I would say that my mom has had the greatest influence on my life. I watched her struggle through difficult times after my father died and she did so with grace and dignity. She allowed us to be independent and choose our own careers and was always supportive. She taught us to never accept mediocrity and was the first person to tell me you can be anything you want. I grew up in the '60s and this was considered at the time radical thinking. Everything I did was to honor the sacrifices her and my father endured to get me through school.
I also would have to say that my TEACHERS were a significant and powerful influence. When I did not believe in myself, several teachers saw the potential in me and would not let me be complacent. One teacher even spent her own money to tutor me personally to ensure that I did not fall behind. I have the greatest respect for teachers all over the world. There are great teachers out there and they do not get the credit they so richly deserve for shaping young minds. I would not be where I am today but for my teachers. I thank God for them everyday that they were there and they cared enough to stop and help me. Other than my mom, my teachers were the greatest influence on my life choices and I will never forget them.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
I would say to ANY young woman considering a career in engineering - DO IT! You will not be sorry! I have had a wonderful career that has allowed me to see the world and do wonderful things to help change the world. I would also tell them to not be afraid of math and science. This is sometimes a barrier to women and it should not be. Math is all about LOGIC. Science helps explain nature and the way the world works. This should be a natural fit for all women! The image of engineering as men with pocket protectors is dead! We now have women in space, women in technology, women as leading doctors and physicists and yes, women in multiple engineering disciplines building roads, bridges, and skyscrapers and even software applications that change the way we work and live. I would tell any young women to stop and think about what you want to do. If you want to sit at a desk and take orders from a boss and go home early everyday and party, engineering is probably not for you. But if you want a career that will challenge you, that will take you to places you have never been before, and give you the opportunity to take your unique talent to help change the world for the better, YOU SHOULD BECOME AN ENGINEER. Engineers are not monolithic. We are everywhere. A career in engineering can open the door to many opportunities as it has in my life. The sky is the limit and your unique potential is the driving force. What I love about engineering is that it never gets old. What I did in the '80s is not what I am doing today. Today, I am constantly thinking about how to make things better, cheaper and more efficient. I am thinking about things like climate change, energy solutions and advanced technologies that will help corporations become more efficient and effective. ENGINEERING IS POWER. I have the ability to influence the direction of my own life. I am not dependent - others depend on me. Choosing a career in engineering was one of the best and most important decisions in my life.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
As a kid, I always loved music - all kinds of music. I used to play alto sax, electric guitar, French horn and drums. I now play drums. I have been playing for over 30 years. My son plays the electric guitar and I keep saying I will play a gig with him (he is very good!). I have my own electric drum set and I collect drum sticks from Hard Rock Cafe's around the world.(my favorite hamburger restaurant) I have visited every Hard Rock restaurant in North America and London. I love National Geographic and am particularly fond of their specials on sharks. Jaws is my favorite movie. My latest favorite move is "The Walk" about a man who walked between the twin towers in NY. As a civil engineer, I was fascinated with the courage of his feat as well as the engineering it took to understand how to place the wire strategically between two buildings. FACINATING. My favorite book is anything by Tom Clancy, Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, etc. His novels are immersive and make you feel like you are there.