August 21, 2007Her job: Director, Women in Engineering Program, The University of Texas at Austin
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I try to get girls interested in engineering as a career and I work to recruit young women to The University of Texas at Austin's College of Engineering. I work with women majoring in Engineering to help them make connections with other engineering students and with engineers working in industry. I talk, present, problem solve, teach, create logos, write reports, draw, manage money, raise money, connect people with each other and with resources that can help them, and much more!
Why did you choose engineering?
I chose engineering because I saw it as a good way to keep progressing in math and science and as a way to head to medical school. I wanted to go into something impressive – something that people would look at as challenging and for "smart people". I ended up loving engineering and never went to medical school….and engineering is impressive!
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I went to The University of Texas at Austin and received a Bachelor's of Science degree in Chemical Engineering. I also received a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Houston at Clear Lake.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I started out in engineering design at Dow Chemical, a large chemical company. I designed equipment and processes that were used to make chemicals such as plastics and chlorine. I compare it to baking cookies: I figured out the order that everything had to be done so that the cookies (or plastic) came out perfectly done at the end and I had to design the oven that cooked the cookies and the pan they were cooked on. I also worked on peanuts...packaging peanuts, that is! My company was trying to help create a better biodegradable packaging peanut using a plastic we had developed. I worked with customers trying to make packaging peanuts on their equipment (which is the same type of equipment that Cheetos are made on). I also developed a "packaging peanut test" to figure out if we were making better peanuts than the competition. Turns out that we weren't and the project got cancelled. I have also been the manager on large projects where I assigned work to other engineers and helped coordinate all the work being done. I have worked in teams as small as just 2 people to as many as 30 or more people. Since moving to The University of Texas at Austin, I have been in charge of the Engineering Scholarship Program where I worked with students, alumni, and companies to award scholarships to engineering students. I managed recruiting programs trying to get high school students to come to UT and major in engineering. I got to give out lots of money in scholarships. And I now run the Women in Engineering Program where we have all kinds of activities focused on getting women excited about engineering, recruiting women to UT in engineering, and keeping them excited about engineering once they are enrolled at UT. I get creative on coming up with fun program names, colorful logos, and exciting reports and brochures. I problem solve how to get volunteers, manage our program budget/money, and work with lots of people from students to teachers to parents to engineers.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I love the challenge. I love being able to look at a problem and saying, "I can figure that out!" I may not know how, but I know that I can figure it out by working with others, researching it in books or on the Web, or perhaps even thinking about it a while myself. I have always loved mystery books and puzzles and engineering is like doing these all of the time. I also love it when I tell people I’m an engineer and they say, "Wow!"
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
I have met the challenge of trying new things and stepping into new job situations or other situations and figuring out how to succeed. I think engineering taught me how to look at new situations positively and looking at new challenges as a fun new opportunity. I have moved from an engineering design role to one where I got to work with customers to one in completely different location and type of job in a university. I also have successfully started my own business with a friend and engineering gave me the confidence to know I can do anything.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I am married to a Chemical Engineer who I met while working at The Dow Chemical Company in college. We have been married since 1994 and have two sons. Neither of my parents are engineers, but both have college degrees - my mother has a Master's in Education.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My parents sent me to an engineering camp when I was in high school. I hated it and never planned to go into engineering. Well, they must have known something because now I'm an engineer. My parents always encouraged me and have supported me all along. I also had a wonderful science teacher in high school who showed an interest in me and had me help her with her class preparation. She was a wonderful role model of someone in science as she took continuing education science courses every summer and always aimed to have the best technology in the classroom.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Take all the math and science classes you can. You don’t have to love all your classes, but you do need to take them so you’re prepared for college. Reach out to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) section nearest you or to a Women in Engineering Program at a nearby college or university in order to learn more about engineering options. Find a summer camp or other program that can help you explore all that engineering has to offer. Know that with an engineering degree, you save lives, positively impact the environment, and make the world a better place now and for the future.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I love the outdoors and enjoy playing outside with my sons on the swing set or slide. I walk for exercise and sometimes lift weights. I used to play volleyball and love to watch college sports such as volleyball, basketball, and football. I read or do Soduko puzzles every night before I go to bed and my favorite type of book is a good mystery or suspense novel. I've learned to sew but I'm not very good and I enjoy taking lots of digital pictures.