Vanessa Li
Vanessa Li
Process Leader, Novelis

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Close Up
  • What I Do

    I am a Process Leader with Novelis Aluminum Inc at the Terre Haute, Indiana facility. I am responsible for process, product and quality of our sheet rolled aluminum products.

  • Why Engineering?

    I wanted to do something that impact our daily lives. But, if you ask me this question while I was in first grade, my answer would be very simple: I love chemistry and physics.

    Ever since I can remember, I loved watching chemical reactions. I felt the mysterious solar system very fascinating. I love the space but never wanted to be an astronaut (I thought spending time in space is a lonely idea).

    I always enjoyed chemistry and physics lab sessions. I looked forward to chemistry and physics periods because they were hands-on (aka. I can move around the classroom and no need to sit still!) I liked classes such as calculus and physics because once I understood the concept, I can solve all problems without needing to spend time (aka. I can spend less time studying for exam and still get a decent grade!)

    I was told boys always do better in math than girls. At that time, I did not know if that is truth or myth, but I was determined to prove these people wrong. I told myself “This is not possible, and I am as smart as the boys!”

    During middle school, I selected science as my main stream of concentration (In Hong Kong, we had to select a concentration at age 14). My physics teacher gave us a challenge: design a thermal cup. Our group designed a stainless-steel cup with 2 layers and vacuum in between. This was my first exposure of material selection and design for application.

    I went to University of Illinois for Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) and selected metallurgy as my area of concentration. I foresaw myself working in manufacturing.

  • School Days
    • I went to an all-girls school in Hong Kong established by the Anglican Church in 1906. There were a lot of emphasis on music education and home economics. I took piano and flute. Needlework and cooking lessons are mandatory.
    • I left Hong Kong at age 16 and went to a boarding school in Monterey Bay, California for my last 2 years of high school. This was the time I learned to be independent.
    • While I studied in University of Illinois, I joined a research group led by some graduate students for 3.5 years. I received my undergraduate degree in Materials Science and Engineering - Metallurgy. I did two internships during this time.
    • While working full time, I took weekend MBA courses from Indiana University.
  • My Day At Work

    Over the course of my career, I have been involved with process and quality. These are some of my past and current responsibilities:

    • Process: improve productivity through data analysis and reviewing trend, process improvement projects, share best practice, set up auto flag when process parameters are outside of desire limits
    • Quality: resolve customer claims, recommend solutions to customer through product applications and designs, new product qualification, ISO compliance, ensure product meets customer applications, reduce defect and salvaging of defective products, root cause analysis, problem solving, feedback to supplier, process audit, corrective actions, improve inspection method and define product release criteria, train new inspectors
    • Lab: mechanical and chemical testing data analysis, maintain lab supplies, set up lab equipment, ensure consistency in testing, training new lab technicians
  • Best Part

    My job involves hands-on tasks such as chemical and mechanical testing in lab, inspection of products, process improvement, traveling to customer sites for service and product support etc.

  • Proud Moments

    I feel proud when children show an interest in my STEM demo during outreach events. Little by little, I spark their interest. Even if they decide not to pursue STEM later in their life, it is still a good way for them learn more about their passion. One will never know what he/she likes or don’t like to do until they are exposed to it. This learning opportunity is very valuable.

    I also feel proud when I host international students. Being in their shoes before, I understand the importance of helping students transitioning to a new living environment. ​​

  • Challenges

    The challenge I faced while studying in the U.S. is that Americans are much better at marketing and presenting themselves. Students are not afraid to ask questions or even challenge the teachers. I sometimes doubt my potential, thinking that I am simply not as smart as them. My family focused heavily on Chinese philosophy and beliefs. I was taught to be humble since “There is always a mountain higher than this one.” I later learned that this did not help me demonstrate confidence in the workplace. I learned by observing others and realized that they simply feel comfortable expressing their idea. I then learned how to share my ideas with others and showed my confidence without being arrogant. It was simply a cultural difference and not a difference in intelligence. 

  • My Family

    My parents: They have been living in Hong Kong since their childhood. My dad has a business degree from SUNY-Buffalo and my mom is a stay-at-home mom. They do not have direct experience with engineering, but they supported my sister’s and my studies in the U.S. The reason is the colleges in U.S. have more resources in science and engineering. Hong Kong does not have much manufacturing jobs since investment banking, real estate, finance types of jobs are the mainstream. Just as any other typical Chinese families, education is an important part of children’s life. My sister and I grew up expecting ourselves to attend college.

    My sister: I have a younger sister. She obtained her civil engineering degree from UC-Berkeley and did her master in environmental engineering from M.I.T. She is now a Public Utilities Regulatory Analyst at California Public Utilities Commission.  

  • Dreams and Goals

    Career: I like working in manufacturing environment. My long-term goal is to become a director in product development and/or process technology.

    Personal: I am still looking for the special someone of my life. I would like to have my own family someday.

  • Want to be an Engineer?

    Study hard while in college (yes, I spent lots of time in the library studying because there were a lot of smart kids around me.)

    Self-confident is important. I questioned why boys are better than girls in math and science. I was determined to disprove that. Remember, if I can STEM, so can you.

  • Hobbies

    Audiobook, travel, trying out different restaurants, sewing, Zumba, piano, Cessna 172, visiting museums, exploring a new town etc​.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: BS. Materials Science and Engineering - Metallurgy; Indiana University at Bloomington: MBA
Volunteer Opportunities
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
  • I am willing to serve as a sponsor or coach for an engineering club or team.
  • I am willing to serve as science fair judge or other temporary volunteer at a local school.
  • I am willing to host a field trip to my place of employment.