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Nolita Lewis is program manager for GE Aviation's EEDP

Lewis is a trained engineer doing a stint in HR, and so are all her 165 direct reports. They'll go back to engineering when their assignment is over

'I'm not one of those engineers who get a degree and then go off and do something else," Nolita Lewis asserts. "I really love that stuff."

Lewis is program manager for the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP) at General Electric Aviation (Cincinnati, OH). EEDP is a two- to three-year entry-level program consisting of three or more rotational assignments on engineering projects driven by real GE business priorities. It's designed to accelerate professional development through intense technical training and a variety of business-critical assignments. Participants have the opportunity to earn credit toward an MS in engineering or other tech specialties.

Managing the program
"This is the program I came in on, and now I'm managing it," Lewis says. "I think it's the best program ever!"

Lewis joined GE Aviation in 2003 as a program engineer in EEDP and worked in several departments over her first three years.

Nevertheless, her job today is essentially a form of HR. "I interview, hire and provide career guidance for entry-level engineers. I'm glad to do it because I feel it's important for them to have someone like me who has an engineering degree, has gone through the program and can talk confidently about the career path here at GE Aviation. Providing career guidance is the most impactful part of my role."

Lewis has 165 direct EEDP reports, including about forty in Lynn, MA, representing a mix of engineering disciplines and all at different stages of their careers. "Who better to do this than people who have done it themselves?" she asks. "I think engineers relate really well to other engineers."

"I have a passion for what we do here," Lewis adds, "and I care about the business and where we're going in the future."

As a manager, Lewis says, "I have an open-door policy and want to be as accessible as possible. I was in their shoes, and I know how overwhelming it can be, fresh out of college, to work in a huge company. I want to be responsive and available to my team."

Growing up with science
Lewis hails from Atlanta, GA, one of eight children. "I always loved math, science and planes," she says. "I never had an opportunity to fly as a kid, but I was always intrigued as to how airplanes worked, how they got up in the air and what kept them there."

In school math and science came naturally to her, and she was lucky to have a good mentor. Her mother worked for a woman who was a financial aid counselor for an Atlanta university. She recognized Lewis' abilities and talked with her about applying to colleges and choosing an engineering curriculum. "We went through each individual program," she says. "I chose aerospace based on my interest and I stuck with it and loved it." Lewis went to Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL) and got her BS in aerospace science engineering in 2003.

She interned with GE every undergraduate summer. "I was recruited at a NSBE conference," she remembers. "As a kid I just associated GE with light bulbs and refrigerators. To learn that they also built airplane engines was very interesting to me. I wanted to know what they did and how they did it.

"After my first co-op I became a campus ambassador for GE Aviation."

Aviation and more
While she was in the engineering development program at GE, Lewis completed a 2006 MSME at the University of Cincinnati. "After starting at GE I found I had a really big interest in ME," she says. "When I graduated from EEDP I took on a series of engineering jobs over the next few years. I worked in assembly, I did product and customer support, I wrote repair instructions for engine manuals and I did some hardcore design work. Then I was asked to manage the EEDP."

One of Lewis' EEDP responsibilities involves recruiting. She goes out to schools, conferences and career fairs sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Society of Women Engineers, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and others. "We use a lot of different avenues for getting good talent," Lewis says.

Being a technical woman in what some still think of as a "man's world" hasn't fazed Lewis a bit. "I grew up with five brothers," she says. "I'm used to dealing with men. I knew that as long as I was working on an engine somewhere I was okay."

At GE Aviation Lewis is on the leadership committee for the Women in Technology networking group. She also belongs to the GE Women's Network and its African American Forum. Outside of GE she's a professional member of NSBE.

Back to engineering
After this assignment Lewis wants to get back to engineering. "I plan to hit the ground, talk with customers and get back into design," she says. "I'll be happy to get back to the day in and day out of the product."


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