Jennifer Polivka

Jennifer Polivka

Test Engineer
Portland, OR, United States
Jennifer Polivka
Ask a Question:
Required field
Please note
Due to the unexpectedly large volume of questions being submitted to the Ask an Engineer program, it may take as many as 3 months or more for a response to your question to be posted. Please review previous questions and answers to see if your question may have already been addressed.
Enter the code shown: (only upper case)

Contact Info
I was formally introduced to the field of Materials Science and Engineering when I was a senior in high school. At that point I knew it was the field that I wanted to spend my life working in. Studying Materials Science and Engineering in college provided numerous experience opportunities, whether that be conducting research, performing various tests, or traveling to conventions, competitions, and lectures. My job at Nike is amazing and fits perfectly with what I thought I wanted to be doing all along. Everything is hands-on and a great mix of cutting edge technology and thorough scientific experimentation. I am thankful to have a job which allows me to continue learning about materials and materials applications, something I look forward to each and every day.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Jennifer Polivka

Hi Elizabeth!  Thank you so much for writing! In my experience, the first year or so of college was a lot more about getting a good general foundation than really focusing specifically on engineering. While I had a good idea of what I wanted to major in, at my school I couldn't apply to get into the department until after completing my first year. That first year I took a wide variety of courses like math, chemistry, writing, and history. I also think the beginning of college is about adjusting and maturing -- getting into good study habits, knowing where or how to get food (haha), and just in general developing a larger sense of independence. So whatever you are doing that first year of college will help you in life and in engineering even if it's not directly tied to engineering.

As for your doubts about your capability as an engineer, I just encourage your to keep your head up and keep working hard. We all know that engineering can be challenging and complex at times, but if you run into difficulties then I have confidence that you can find a way to problem solve whatever roadblock comes your way. If engineering is what you want, then believe in yourself and keep your eye on the goal.  Best wishes!

Hi Jaelyn! Whenever I think about the best and worst of being in the field of materials engineer, honestly it comes to the same thing: materials engineering is a very diverse, wide, inter-disciplinary field.

The pro side of that is all the amazing things that materials engineering is involved with, from the things people wear (like clothes and shoes or eyeglasses) to the things people use on a daily basis (like windows, cars, books, or seating), to things that just on the cusp of discovery.  Likewise, in materials engineering the people you work with is also very diverse and it's always a continual learning experience. I work with a lot of people who are not materials engineers or even any other type of engineer and I really enjoy it.

The con side of this wide possibilities is that is that because there is this continual learning and discovery in the field of materials, there is no way to ever be an expert in everything. When I graduated from college with my degree, I interviewed with wide range of companies -- aerospace, software, medical devices, technology, etc -- and ultimately ended up in a sportswear field. While they all have the need for material engineering in common, the specifics of the expertise needs is very different.

The other con I've found with materials engineering is that it is not as widely known to the general public. If I say "mechanical engineering" then sometimes people have an idea of what I mean, whether they are right or wrong.  When I say "materials engineering" then I tend to get more followup questions because they are less familiar with what materials engineering entails. That being said, it can be nice to have that opportunity to educate individuals on what the field is about.

I got into materials engineering because it's exciting and interesting, so of course to me the pros far outweigh the cons!


Nike is amazing and I truly enjoy my job and the company.  But also be open to other opportunities because you never know what is going to come your way!  I didn't do my studies in university with Nike in mind; I actually intended to work in the medical device industry but found my way to Nike through many twists and turns.

There is no one specialization that Nike is looking for (we use a lot of different materials) so, for now, keep working on your studies. Because a lot of people have an interest to work for this company due to its international recognition, excelling as best as you can in school or work will be the difference between you and the other candidates.  Whatever you are working on or studying, make sure that it is something you are excited about!

With that said, Nike has engineering opportunities throughout the world. People I used to work with here in Oregon are now working for Nike in various countries in Asia, Europe, and South America (and other places).  If you are really, truly set on working for Nike, keep an eye out for any opportunity that sounds interesting within the company even if it's not your "ideal" position right away; it is better to gain experience and understand how the company works first. Being able to network and talk with people within the company will help you work your way to whatever position you are going for.

Hi Elizabeth, I have  BS in MSE. About half of the group's engineers have additional degrees, but everyone has at least 4-5 years of work experience which in my opinion is equally valuable as continuing education.

My day varies quite a bit all the time. Of course there is a lot of time spent working out in the lab doing hands-on things, both individually and with other peers.  With that comes a lot of report writing because we document what we tested, how we tested, and outcomes.  And with that also comes a lot of meetings whether that's within the lab or with our customers (the folks who bring in parts and have questions).  Any one day has some varying balance of these things and even when I think I know what my day is going to look like there's always the chance that something will come out of nowhere and take priority over everything else.

There are actually quite a few different engineering-centric groups at Nike and each one has a different focus and is therefore looking for something slightly different. Some groups look at biomechanics and want a higher-level more research-oriented work experience; some groups are purely theoretical analytics looking at scenarios or process improvements via data processing and therefore need a strong computer background; My group, since it's a testing lab (and there are other testing labs withing the company too) has a big focus on hands-on testing experience.

One thing that each group at Nike (ie, Nike in general) values a lot is great communication skills whether that's formal/informal emails, research papers, oral presentations to different levels of audience (technical and non-technical, minions to Vice Presidents), etc.  Nike is all about relationships and building trust so being able to articulate thoughts and persuade people to understand your viewpoint is very important!

Best of luck!  Hope to see you here soon :)

Hi Erin!  Congratulations on being a senior soon -- high school can be tricky both academically and socially, but it's also an experience so enjoy the good parts while they last :)

For me, at the root of it all I knew I excelled at math and science in school and that those were the areas that I enjoyed learning the most; from there I wanted to go into engineering because of the people I knew as I grew up -- my dad is a former chemical engineer, my oldest sister got a degree in Civil, among other influential people. They reinforced the areas of my personality that fit in with engineering -- analytical, problem-solving, hands-on learning, etc.  Engineering was just something that fit me well.

Materials engineering was something I discovered as a senior in high school; before then, I was assuming I would do mechanical, which is a broad, general engineering major that can go into a lot of different jobs and fields.

It's hard to know where exactly you want to end up, and people's plans and careers change whether they intended to do so or not.  So consider both what your ideal career is (what would get you jumping up every morning and looking forward to the day) as well as what your options would be with a given degree.  As I said, mechanical is something I consider to be applicable to a huge variety of fields; material science in its own way is too -- I thought I'd go into biomaterials or nanoparticle research but ended up in a sportswear testing lab!

I would encourage you to talk with people who: a)have experience in the industries you are interested and ask what they majored in; or b) alternatively, ask people who have degrees in the academic departments that you are considering what industries and jobs are open to them. For example, the people in my lab here have a variety of backgrounds: materials, mechanical, chemical, and bio-engineers.  Different backgrounds and career paths, but clearly we all ended up in the same place.

With regards to picking a specific engineering over all the other kinds, there is some overlap in required classes for the various engineering degrees.  As part of my materials science and engineering degree, I also took classes in chemical, mechanical, civil, and computer science engineering.  So if you go to a place with more than one engineering major, you should be able to get a taste for the different ones and maybe one will inspire you the most.  This is also true about college in general: you don't have to have absolutely everything figured out and nailed down before you ever set foot on college campus.  Your experience while there will influence and shape the choices you make, as it should.

Best of luck!  The fact that you're thinking about your future and being conscientious of where you want to go in life, I know you'll do great at whatever you set your mind to.


Hi Nameera,

I'm not the person you asked this question specifically to (although my name is pretty close, right?) but I wanted to respond because your question is something I maybe know a little bit about.

My husband's brother has always been interested in being a pilot. He studied aeronautical/astronautical engineering in college and now works for an aerospace company, but he also continued to take pilot lessons.  So yes, I think you can study aerospace engineering and continue on to becoming a pilot!

Best of luck,

The previous answer to your question caught my eye because I am an engineer that work at Nike.  I see a lot of interesting things in my day, such as new materials for shoes that were chosen because they look cool and are perceived as fashionable, but my job is to also ensure that these materials meet certain specifications -- the material has to both look good as well as hold up to all the rigors it faces when put into an actual shoe.

There are also a lot of different kinds of engineers and scientists here at Nike -- materials, mechanical, biomaterial, chemical, industrial, computer science, etc. My boss has her bachelor's degree in aeronautical/astronautical!

Hi Jill,

It sounds like you've put a lot of thought into what you want to do with your future and that is really great.  I always encourage those getting ready to go to university to think about what they want to do with their lives -- Like you explained, what school you go to and what you study are sometimes related.  Every school has its strength and weaknesses, and some schools offer programs and degrees that another school does not.  So good job to you for researching the schools you are interested in.

My degree is in Material Science and Engineering and I have an amazing job that involves chemistry and the production of "cool stuffs".  The other people I know that studied Material Science and Engineering with me also found really interesting jobs -- we all ended up in different fields of industry but are all still doing something cool.  So if that's what interests you and you think that is something you want to study, I say go for it!

As for double majoring, it can be difficult to do but a lot of people do it successfully.  It will just mean having to be especially focused on your studies.

Last but not least, although I grew up in the US, my parents are from the Philippines and studied at the universities so I am familiar with both of the colleges that you mention.  Both schools can give you the training and education that you need to be successful in the workplace as long as you work hard and study diligently.

Best of luck,


Sounds like you faced a difficult class in Physics, and that's okay!  We all face difficulties, whether that be an especially hard class or something out in the workplace.  It's something we all deal with and work through.

That one grade will not define you. Your GPA (both semester and overall) are still really good.  And internships and graduate schools look at more than just GPA anyways so one low grade in a class is definitely not going to keep you from getting into internship programs or graduate school.  I assure you that you are absolutely good enough to be an engineer -- don't let this one bump in the road keep you from you aspirations.  Just keep focusing on your goal and you will do great!

Best of luck,