November 2, 2016Her job: Black Belt Project Manager, Univar Inc.
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I work for a chemical manufacturer and distributor and help my coworkers identify processes that take too long, have extra steps in them, or are prone to mistakes. Then we work together to find a better solution. We do this by collecting data on the process and drawing flow diagrams to show what all the steps are. We try to understand the root causes of any errors and put a new system in place so those errors can't happen again.
Why did you choose engineering?
I was always interested in the simple concept of how things work and got great feedback from teachers that I was good at math and science. A woman who worked at 3M came to my elementary school and explained how to make tape, and I was fascinated. My mom was also a great STEM example for me as she was a microbiologist, and shared her work with us at home. When I got into the later years of my major in college I really knew I had picked the right field (chemical engineering). My favorite classes were plant design and fluid mechanics - I loved seeing the link from the theoretical to the practical application of engineering. Engineering is something you can touch and take apart and see the inner workings of, and I love it.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I attended the University of Pittsburgh for a BS in Chemical Engineering and the University of Phoenix online for an MBA.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I have a lot of conference calls with people in different parts of the country, travel a fair amount to visit different locations/branches in my company, prepare presentations, perform statistical data analysis using Excel and Minitab, prepare financial savings spreadsheets, and talk a lot to people about how they do their jobs. It is by talking to them that I fully understand what the process is - I'm never the expert at someone else's job.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
Being an engineer is great because you get to apply theory to practical situations and solve problems. Engineering school taught me how to think, how to be scientific about solving problems, and I have carried that with me so far in my career.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I love the impact I have had on people. I have won an award for a big project I did that saved over a million dollars but what I was really excited about related to that project was that I changed the way people thought a process could be done. They previously thought it could never be done any other way than how it had been done for 30 years, but we proposed something new and it worked. That was so rewarding to me, to see the culture change at that particular location because I believed in those people and listened to their concerns about why it wouldn't work, but in the end we worked together and it did work. I have seen this replay countless times over my career in continuous improvement and it's really personally rewarding to me to see that light bulb go off in someone's head when they open their mind to a new possibility.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
Being a young woman in a male dominated field can definitely be tricky, and I have encountered many unexpected challenges related to this inequity. The hardest thing is to be unapologetically authentic but still conform to professional standards. For example, I am an animated speaker, and I like that about myself - it's my natural state when speaking in front of others and I am energized by being animated. But sometimes that is not the best way to get your point across - you have to flex your style to your audience's preferences. But sometimes that feels like cheating myself, like it's not who I really am... so it's a tough balance that I continue to pursue. I want to be me, to be different, but sometimes that is not what corporate America wants - so I have to decide at each juncture if it's worth it for me to be myself or to rein myself in a little bit. The answer's never the same and never easy!
I also used to struggle a bit with speaking up in a room full of men. But Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In helped me realize I should take a seat at the table: if you're invited to the meeting, then someone cares what you have to say. So speak up!
Please tell us a little about your family.
I have been married for 9 years (as of 2016) and have two boys who are 5 and 2. We live in Texas near my husband's parents and my parents live in Minnesota.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
In the next couple of years I am focusing on my family while continuing to grow more at work. I love my job function - what I do everyday - and hope to continue doing it. I want to exercise more and work on mindful meditation. I'd also like to travel more both with my kids and without them! This year I took a trip with my best friend and it was fantastic, so I hope to do that as much as I can in the future. Longer term, I want to support my kids as they grow, keep pursuing what I'm passionate about both in and outside of work, and make a difference for others.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My parents are very influential for me - they raised me to be independent, resilient, and capable. And my own family influences my decisions now - I want my husband and kids to be proud of me and I want to set a good example for the next generation. I have also gained so much perspective from women who have come before me - there is nothing better than laughing about potty training disasters with other working moms or being able to cry to a coworker who knows the struggle you go through with a particular colleague. I've been blessed to know some fantastic women in my life and intend to always pay that forward.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Think about what makes you happy in life - not just the amount of money that will be in your bank account. I believe everyone should strive to find a job function that makes them want to get up every day and go to it. Every company isn't going to be great, every boss isn't going to love you, but if you generally get satisfaction from the tasks you do in your job, I believe chances are that you'll be pretty happy. Also - you don't need to be a CEO to be happy! Nor a director in 10 years! You'll be working for over 40 years... take one day at a time and set some goals and keep working towards them little by little.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love to listen to podcasts and have learned so much about the world while listening. I love true storytelling shows the most (some of my favorites are Sword and Scale, The Story Collider, Death Sex & Money, The Longest Shortest Time, and The Allusionist) but I also love educational shows like
Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller, Planet Money, Fresh Air, Historically Black, Science Vs., and How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black. My love of podcasts led me to start my own website reviewing and recommending shows, it's at audiblefeast.com. It's a great passion project. Check it out!