Diverse MEs are in demand
"I love bouncing ideas off people." – Sarah Huebscher, Cummins
"Thought-provoking ideas result in improved performance." – Dr Lena Nicolaides, KLA-Tencor
By Angela M. Hutchinson
Mechanical engineering degrees can lead in many directions. The grads profiled here work in areas from aerospace to power distribution, in roles that are as varied as the industries.
"I wasn't sure what an ME could offer the railroad," one new grad remembers, but she soon found out. MEs design, test and evaluate very large locomotives and tiny electronic components. Many find their way to management.
MEs, like other engineers, find that their completed degrees come with rewards. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (www.naceweb.org), the typical salary for all recent college grads with bachelors degrees is $42,000. In engineering fields, new grads can expect an average salary of approximately $61,000.
Sarah Huebscher designs diesel engine components at Cummins
Sarah Huebscher is a design engineer at Cummins, Inc (Columbus, IN), which designs, manufactures, distributes and services engines and related technologies, including electrical power generation systems.
She's responsible for designing components used on the company's midrange diesel engines. Most of her day is spent working with models using computer- aided design (CAD) software and attending meetings to review models, program goals and project issues.
"My family played a critical role in showing me that anything is achievable through hard work and determination," says Huebscher, who grew up in a Jewish American family in Lexington, MA. Her father runs an online company and her mom volunteers in the community. She has a sister who is a rabbi and a brother who's a writer.
"My background instilled a set of values in me that continue to guide me through my line of work," she feels. "In Hebrew school, I learned to do everything with compassion and to always give back to the community. Those are some of Cummins' core values."
Huebscher earned her BSME at Brown University (Providence, RI) in 2010 and her masters in innovation, management and entrepreneurship engineering there a year later. She's always been involved with athletics, and rowed for one of the top Division 1 crew programs at her school. "Participating in sports helped me develop a strong work ethic and learn how to be a team player," she notes.
Huebscher learned about Cummins through employees who knew her sister. They told her about internship and job opportunities and offered to pass her resume along. "Within a few weeks, I had an interview and was offered an internship," she notes. "As an intern, I found it a great place to work and I was excited about returning full time after graduation."
Working at Cummins, Huebscher has increased her knowledge. "In just over half a year, I learned about all the different components that factor into design work, like manufacturability and serviceability," she says. "Cummins allows me to take control of my projects while still being part of a team. I love being able to bounce ideas off people and then buckle down and work on my own design. It's a great balance."
She's currently creating a new design for an air intake and finds the process quite fascinating. "I research past designs, generate lots of new concepts and then discuss these with my team," she explains. "Then I narrow in on one design and use statistical analysis to optimize the design. It's fun."
Huebscher finds being the only female design engineer in her department empowering. "I offer a different perspective on many topics, but I benefit from the diversity of our team as well," she explains. "When I'm evaluating multiple designs, I am guaranteed to learn something at team meetings because everyone looks at a problem from their personal point of view. It makes my designs better and my work more interesting."
Constantly changing demands keep Huebscher on her toes. "When I start a project, I'm given a list of requirements that the design must meet. Inevitably, those requirements change as time goes on and the project develops," she says. "The key, for me at least, is to always ask questions and never consider a design perfect. Designing is a continuous, fluid process, and my designs must keep up with ever-changing demands."
Lucy Fan works in new product and apps development at KLA-Tencor
Lucy Fan is an applications development engineer at KLA-Tencor Corp (Milpitas, CA), a supplier of process control and yield management solutions for the semiconductor and related microelectronics industries.
She's responsible for supporting the company's blanket wafer inspection products, conducting in-house customer product demonstrations, and helping with sales and marketing efforts. She also works on new product introductions, and helps transfer product knowledge to KLA-Tencor's worldwide field applications teams. The job involves working closely with marketing, sales and engineering professionals within the company, and with outside customer engineers as well.
She recently led a product demonstration for a customer. "It was very rewarding seeing the results," she says.
Fan grew up in China and attributes her passion for technology to her engineer father and math teacher mother. "They think engineering is very practical and useful for daily life," she says.
She got her 2004 bachelors of engineering in automation from the University of Science and Technology of China (Hefei, Anhui, China). In 2005 she moved to the U.S. for grad school and earned her masters in industrial engineering and ops research in 2009 and her PhD in mechanical engineering in 2010 at the University of California-Berkeley. It took her a little while to adapt to the U.S. culture and language, but now she loves it here.
"The U.S. has the best technology in the world, and I wanted to learn the most advanced science and technology," she says.
A meeting with a KLA-Tencor recruiter at a campus career fair led Fan to an on-site interview and job offer, all within a month. She was impressed with the company's core values, which include perseverance and the drive to be better.
"These values foster an open, cooperative and effective work environment. Doing the right thing is a number one priority," she says.
Many of KLA-Tencor's major customers are in Asia, and Fan's Chinese heritage makes her valuable to the company. Understanding a variety of cultures lets her communicate more effectively with Asian-based customers, she says. "For example, I understand that certain Asian cultures are very detail-oriented, so you need to be very specific with your numbers and facts.
"At the end of the day, though, you have to make sure the things you design work and are practical, that they combine theories with practical considerations," she cautions.
Fan received a team award within a few months of joining the company. "KLA-Tencor gives out timely recognition to deserving employees so that employees, especially new ones, feel noticed and valued," she explains. "It's such a good feeling to see your hard work appreciated."
Merced Bain is a mechanical maintenance manager at Union Pacific Railroad
Merced Bain is manager of mechanical maintenance II at Union Pacific Railroad (UP, Omaha, NE), which operates a railroad network that covers twenty-three states in the western two-thirds of the country.
He is a manager in the mechanical department at the company's Seattle, WA location. "No two days are alike, except for communication," he says. "It's extremely important to communicate with everyone around me, making morning conference calls, attending job briefings with my team, answering customer emails and phone calls, responding to the helpdesk, and dispatching support to our customers."
Being African American has never held Bain back; instead he believes his background helped him prepare for a career: "Growing up in my church, I was always around business professionals who encouraged higher education and didn't accept anything less. The excuse of being a minority was never even mentioned."
Bain graduated from California State University Polytechnic (Pomona, CA) in 2008 with a BSME. He became interested in UP after an academic advisor told him the story of Elijah McCoy, a black inventor who created self-lubing wheel bearings for locomotives.
"When I came across a Union Pacific career fair booth, I signed up for a tour of the West Colton, CA engine house," he says. He liked what he saw and applied. "I knew this company was serious when they flew me to Omaha for the interview."
Bain enjoys the work because "I get to play with heavy machinery, a 200-ton locomotive. One day we were trying to figure out how to lift a 110-ton railcar to make repairs and change defective components," he says.
Many Union Pacific employees are expected to travel, and that was something Bain has always wanted to do. "I've been from California to Pittsburgh and from Louisiana to Washington," he says with a smile.
As part of his job, Bain has been in UP training for lean process improvement, which is a technique to increase speed, simplify production and optimize business processes in every conceivable area.
He's enjoying the course, but learning how to operate a locomotive was far more exciting, he admits. "There's nothing like it," he says, "blowing the horn, going to notch 1 and kicking off the brakes."
Jonathan Go designs land vehicles and marine vessels at TMLS
Jonathan Go is a mechanical engineer at Textron Marine & Land Systems (TMLS, Slidell, LA), an operating unit of Textron Systems (Wilmington, MA) that designs, produces and supports advanced wheeled combat vehicles and cutting-edge maritime craft for military and civilian use.
Go conducts design, development, testing and production support for land vehicles and marine vessels. He also integrates components, systems and subassemblies into new designs or as retrofits for previous ones, and helps resolve production issues.
A typical day involves creating engineering models and drawings utilizing CAD systems like SolidWorks and AutoCAD, performing engineering calculations, and writing specifications, statements of work and more.
Go grew up in Orlando, FL. His parents met at Disney's Epcot theme park when both were working at the China CircleVision attraction. His mother emigrated from Hong Kong as part of a Disney World cultural outreach program when Disney was building Epcot. His father grew up in New York and moved to Florida for school.
Engineering is in the family. Go's grandfather is a retired engineer and his father and younger brother are also engineers. "I've known I wanted to be an engineer since I was a child playing with Lego and erector sets and taking everything apart," he says.
He graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA) in 2010 with a BSME and a certificate in management. He's currently looking at grad school options for his MSME. Eventually he hopes to pursue an MBA and a doctorate.
"Textron Systems provides continuing education assistance, which will help with the financial burden of paying for additional education," he notes.
Working on products that protect the lives of men and women who serve in our nation's armed forces is very meaningful and rewarding to Go.
"I have some friends in the Army and the Marines, so the work I do has a direct impact on their safety," he notes. "It's a lot of responsibility, and I take great pride in how my work, and the company's, supports the military."
Go designed the propulsion systems for the proposed Ship-to-Shore Connector (SSC) program, which was recently submitted to the U.S Navy.
"The SSC is the new version of an amphibious landing craft that our company originally designed and manufactured for the Navy and Marine Corps in the 1980s," explains Go. "The original has been part of many recent disaster recovery and humanitarian aid missions."
Working with professionals of different backgrounds "fosters great ideas that can be easily improved and enhanced during the development cycle, leading to a better final product," says Go.
Ricson O. Chude is an energy efficiency engineer at SCE
Ricson O. Chude is an engineer I at Southern California Edison (SCE, Rosemead, CA), a utility company that distributes power to almost five million customers, serving a 50,000 square mile area of central, coastal and southern California with close to 14 million people. He joined the company in 2008 and works as an energy efficiency engineer for the strategic planning and technical services group in the customer energy efficiency and solar division.
Chude is responsible for identifying cost-effective measures that deliver energy savings to residential, commercial and industrial customers. He does quality control on customized projects, and performs field inspections to validate pre-existing conditions, identify opportunities and verify installed measures. He also conducts assessments of emerging energy-saving technologies in the residential market.
Born in Nigeria, Chude spent most of his childhood in Rome, Italy. His family always placed an emphasis on education.
"Growing up, my parents monitored the amount of television I watched to ensure I finished my homework, which my father would routinely check," says Chude. "He always encouraged me to read ahead before class, even during summer break."
Chude earned his BSME at California State University-Los Angeles in June 2008. He's a Certified Green Building Professional and is now working on his masters in engineering management.
Like many new college grads, Chude discovered his employer at a job fair hosted by the engineering department at his school. He was ready to pass by the SCE table when a university recruiter asked for his resume. "The typical misconception of engineering students is that as an electric utility, Edison must only hire electrical engineers," he explains.
The recruiter contacted him a few weeks after the fair and asked him to complete an application for an entry-level position. "Surprised and excited, I immediately jumped at the opportunity," he says.
Chude works on a variety of projects. "One day I might be researching energy efficient opportunities for a residential customer, and the next day I might be participating in a field inspection at an industrial wastewater plant," he says.
He's profited from SCE's dedication to the personal and career development of its employees. "Through different channels, SCE offers several courses, from simple emailing strategies to ten-week project management courses," he says. "While the company is very large, there is a close relationship among employees. Several people have worked here for more than thirty years. That's impressive!"
Every employee brings something to the table, says Chude. "Different backgrounds facilitate problem solving. Multiple viewpoints, even contrasting ones, can bring innovative solutions to everyday problems."
David Ernesto Rodriguez works on satellite flight hardware at Northrop Grumman
David Ernesto Rodriguez is a product engineer at the Manhattan Beach, CA facility of Northrop Grumman (Falls Church, VA). Northrop Grumman designs and manufactures military aircraft, defense electronics, precision weapons, and commercial and military aerostructures.
He supports hardware development of custom ground-based test products for satellite flight hardware. His work entails incorporating drawing updates, generating detailed CAD models and assemblies of products, maintaining parts lists, creating drawings, coordinating with fabrication and supporting the overall production process.
"Once in a while I interface with different vendors in order to research their new products for our future use," he adds.
Rodriguez' mother is Salvadoran and his father is Mexican. He was raised in East Hollywood, CA by his mother, and attributes part of his success to her.
"If I needed to learn how to do something, she pushed me to either figure it out myself, or find someone knowledgeable in the subject," he remembers. "That forced me to become curious about everything, and willing to ask questions. It also helped lay the groundwork for functioning effectively here in product engineering, production and operations, and interfacing with different personalities."
Rodriguez got his BSME from the University of California-Berkeley in 2009, and went on to earn a bachelors in psychology from the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2011.
He started at Northrop Grumman as an Inroads intern in Redondo Beach, CA. "Inroads' professional and corporate leadership training helped me land the internship," he says. He performed well enough to be invited back for two subsequent stints and was offered a fulltime position after graduation.
Finding the best solution within budget constraints can be a challenge, but "it's very exciting as well." On one assignment, he had to research ways to ruggedize some of the company's high-speed products that were designed for use on the ground in order to fit them onto a possible future long-endurance air vehicle. "Working with new technologies and learning about the system as a whole was really cool," he says.
Rodriguez believes that effective team building for problem solving centers around bringing together people with different strengths, backgrounds and viewpoints in order to get a well-rounded view of the problem and find the most robust solution. "If America is to grow its engineering and technical production and regain our innovative prowess, a diverse workforce is imperative," he believes.
Ashley Roffe is shop manager at the Russell Locomotive Shop of CSX
Ashley Roffe is shop manager for Russell Locomotive Shop (Russell, KY), a repair facility of CSX (Jacksonville, FL). CSX is one of the largest U.S. railroads, offering rail and intermodal shipping services, plus contract logistics.
Roffe is responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone in the shop, meeting production goals and serving the needs of the company's customers. She also manages administrative tasks like approving payroll and handling disciplinary issues. Each shift starts with a meeting to review safety topics across the system.
"We try to address concerns as quickly as possible," she says. "I keep in contact with our contract supervisors and members of the transportation team to ensure that we have locomotives readily available to meet shipment schedules."
Growing up in the Metro Detroit area with family in the automotive industry helped prepare Roffe for her position at Russell. "I had an idea of how unions work," she says. "And I have an aunt who works for another railroad as an engineer, so I've been able to learn from her experiences."
Roffe earned her bachelors in mechanical engineering technology in 2009 at Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI). She discovered CSX at a campus recruitment fair.
"At the time I wasn't sure what a mechanical engineer could offer the railroad, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to inquire and learn a little bit about CSX," she says. So she submitted her resume and participated in a phone interview the next day. "I was thrilled!"
Roffe started in the management training program. "There I was, fresh out of college in an industry that I didn't know much about, learning about the business, traveling and working on both the railcar and locomotive sides of the mechanical department," she recalls. "I learned about the various components of a locomotive, the different types of railcars, and how to handle a variety of situations. I worked side by side with some of the craftsmen to truly understand what it takes to keep the railroad running mechanically, as well as safely and reliably."
CSX has a long history with deep-rooted traditions and Roffe prides herself on helping her team find ways to innovate while respecting those traditions. "I try to help everyone see the positive side," she says, "whether it's exploring how a new tool makes tasks easier, understanding how a new process drives efficiency, or even how participating in health and wellness goals will improve their lives."
She strongly believes that everyone has something to bring to the table: a fresh perspective on how to do things better or an experience that's taught them what not to do.
"Railroads are an important part of the global economy. It's our responsibility to work together to deliver the benefits of rail transportation to everyone," she notes. "One of our core values at CSX is 'people make the difference.' I am personally experiencing the value of diversity in action as the first female manager at Russell Locomotive Shop."
Hetal M. Solanki is an MRB engineer at Gulfstream
Hetal M. Solanki is a mechanical engineer for the production engineering systems group at Gulfstream Aerospace Corp (Savannah, GA), a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics. Gulfstream designs, develops, manufactures, markets, services and supports advanced business jet aircraft.
Solanki was recruited for Gulfstream's co-op program, and he's been with the company ever since. He recently transitioned from design engineer on G450/G550 production to a job as systems material review board (MRB) engineer for new programs.
"As MRB engineer, I address any deviations from blueprint on the production floor," he explains. "I evaluate discrepant conditions and if necessary I design repairs or modifications."
Born in India, Solanki came to the United States with his parents in 1997 when he was nine and grew up in Jersey City, NJ. "I learned to love tinkering with mechanical things from my dad, while we did maintenance work on family cars," he says. "Aviation was something I was interested in even as a kid."
With his parents' full support, Solanki went to flight school and got his pilot's license the summer after high school. In 2010, he earned his bachelors in aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, FL).
Solanki's fellow workers are always eager to help. "I have the honor of working with esteemed engineers," he says. "The management works hard with our best interests in mind, and the company has great benefits and employee programs."
As the only MRB systems engineer on site during the second shift, Solanki works on everything from aircraft avionics to water/waste systems. "The learning never stops," he says. "Just when you think you've seen it all, a new issue pops up that completely baffles you. New ideas and techniques are introduced into the industry all the time."
According to Solanki, workforce diversity has a global impact. "A diverse technical staff knows what appeals to customers from different regions, and you create a product that is sought around the world."
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