What do you do?
In 20+ years as a Mechanical Engineer, I worked as a Mechanical Design Analyst (also known as a Stress Analyst). I describe it as using science and math to make sure things don’t break. Design Engineers would design a product based on the needs of our customer (usually the US military), and I would research its structural loading requirements, develop computer models, perform calculations, and analyze the results of how the design behaves against those load requirements. I would then work with the Design Engineers to improve areas that did not meet specifications. Sometimes, we would also work together to decrease the weight in areas where a part may be bulkier than needed. In some cases, I performed a kind of forensic investigation on parts that failed in the field, helping to determine how it failed and how to ensure it didn’t happen again. In my current career (or Career 2.0, as I call it), I’m working as a freelance writer and an edu-tainer (educator/entertainer) for senior living communities. I’ve written a novel, published essays, and presented all sorts of topics to local senior groups, like Travelogues and Bird Watching. While it’s certainly different from the left-brain world of Engineering, those “digging deeper” skills I honed as a detail-oriented analyst are still used every day, as is the knowledge of how to communicate to any audience.
Why did you choose this field?
I chose Engineering because I had excellent grades and loved science. I should note I also loved writing. I joke that when I chose Engineering over English as my college major, I did so because I like to eat! (I didn’t think writing could give me the living that I wanted.) I also chose Engineering because I felt that God had given me abilities in that arena and I should use them for the good of society. I chose Mechanical Engineering specifically because I was in love with airplanes but there weren’t a lot of Aeronautical Engineering jobs at the time. With Mechanical, I could still work on planes. As it turned out, I didn’t. But I had a great career working on heavy equipment used by the military, mainly to transport equipment and supplies all around the world. This equipment is used in humanitarian efforts, too, bringing relief and aid to areas hard-hit by things like natural disasters. It might be interesting to note that I never knew a female Engineer before I went to college. Some Scientists? Yes. Pharmacists and Doctors, yes. But no Engineers. Somehow, the thought that the gender issue was a “thing” that should stop me never really crossed my mind when choosing my path. I’m glad it didn’t! Those 20+ years led me to having some financial freedom to follow my first love of writing. I love digging into new topics and learning the behind-the-scenes workings of just about anything – once an Engineer, always an Engineer – but now I write about them!
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I wish I would have realized that other hobbies and talents don’t have to go away when choosing a technical career path. I was a writer in my spare time even when I was engineering full time, and I wrote for my college newspaper during my school years. You don’t have to give up one side of you to do something else that you love. You’ve got a big brain – it can do both – and it’s the perfect way to live a full and fulfilling life!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I loved working in STEM because of the challenge it gave me. I loved solving the problems of why a part would break or why it would crack in a particular place. I loved working with the Design Engineers, putting our heads together to work out a really difficult puzzle. My happiest times were in meetings filled with Engineers of all specialties, where ideas were flying around the room and we were feeding off of each other’s knowledge and scientific creativity. That sort of collaboration is how we change the world for the better.
Best advice for next generation?
Engineering is nothing more than using that brain of yours to do good for the world around you. I hear girls say “I want to help people” – well, you can’t help more people at one time than by bringing clean water to a whole population or developing the next life-saving surgical robot.
Engineering is not a competition, and it’s definitely not Male vs. Female. I was usually the only woman in any conference room, but the guys I worked with treated me like a professional (and a friend) while I treated them the same way.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
A huge, aircraft cargo loader that I worked on was used in two awesome, very-non-military endeavors. The Tunner loader helped transport Keiko, the whale in Free Willy, to his actual freedom – no other machine could so easily get Keiko and his giant tank onto and off of an airplane! A few years later, the Tunner also did the “heavy lifting” to move Maggie the Elephant from Anchorage, Alaska’s zoo to a more habitable home in California. I was given a stuffed Maggie that wears a “Tunner” t-shirt – she still sits on my bookshelf!