Industrial Engineering and Management | Undergraduate Interview
Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management | Undergraduate Interview
Jake: What are your background details? What inspired you, as a woman, to get into the STEM field, and into Industrial Engineering and Management in particular?
Engineering Student: Early LifeWhen I was growing up, I knew I was pretty decent at school, and I knew I loved to read. I knew the older kids in my geometry class often asked to copy my homework. I grew up in what I would consider a typical small town environment (I suppose I consider it “typical” because I never knew any different). My dad had a degree in drafting and design, my mom was a teacher – both instilling things in me either through DNA or from an early age – that I wouldn’t come to fully appreciate until it was time for me to explore a career of my own, or maybe even later. My dad ended up taking over the family insurance business but was always building things, improving things, tinkering in the garage or in the yard – building a deck for our above-ground pool, an obstacle course, bike ramps, or a swing set in the backyard for my brother and me. My mom excelled in her career as a science teacher and gave so many students a love for learning by making her class so fun – by dressing up as an astronaut and decorating her room to feel like kids were walking into space, or fostering experimentation in her science lab, or assignments like “build a robot using only trash” – helping kids to see science everywhere in the world around them. So although I didn’t realize it, I had these primary people in my life, walking in STEM, instilling those interests and ways of thinking into me.
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What was your education experience like?
Education:Maybe because of the general ease I’d had in my schooling, when I got to college at Oklahoma State University, I had a really hard time narrowing down what my future would hold. To me, choosing a major felt so final! How could I possibly know all of my options well enough to appropriately select one I’d find interesting and fulfilling – for the rest of my life? Now, at 36, I have lived 18 more years and seen the way life has played out – in spite of all of my planning. I filtered through a few different colleges and majors in my first three semesters at OSU – physical therapy, social worker, accounting, marketing – I don’t even remember all of them. I’d always thought I wanted to be an architect, but in 8th grade, I’d had an algebra teacher scoff when I said that and say, “Do you know how much MATH it takes to be an architect?” That was all it took to throw me off of that path. Was that because I was a female? Because I wasn’t good enough at math? Because he was a jerk teacher? I’m disappointed in myself to say that through that one interaction, I was easily deterred from math majors, despite having completed all of the math courses my high school had to offer, with top grades. At college, I eventually heard about the Johnson-O’Connor aptitude test, offered through a center in Dallas. I learned about the concept of “aptitudes” as natural talents or abilities, and how the test aimed to identify an individual’s aptitudes and match those up with other people with similar aptitudes, and the career fields where they had experienced success. The idea still concerned me because I felt like I was so intent on figuring out what major would be right for me, that I wouldn’t be able to take a test without overthinking the questions, and causing a bias. Then I learned the method of testing used at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation – the testing would take place over the course of a day, and those being tested would be asked to perform various tasks: timed trials using instruments to sort small objects, putting 3D puzzles together, listening to sounds, recalling the placement and removal of objects, among others. Through those activities, the team there would then identify where individuals might find success. I thoroughly enjoyed the test – I’ve always been interested in contests, timed trials, and personality differences. Board races, anyone? Typically, those being tested would learn of two or three aptitudes (out of the twenty they tested for) upon completion. I remember the reviewer said to me, “The good news is, you have 13 aptitudes. The bad news is, you have 13 aptitudes.” Meaning – they couldn’t really narrow things down much more than I already had. However, my strongest aptitude was for spatial relation, which typically leads to engineering. I remember the person reviewing my results with me encouraged me to explore Industrial Engineering – “because in that major, you’ll find the most females”. The Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management is sometimes seen as a blend between the business and engineering disciplines, and at that time, classes tended to be about 1:1 male to female. Without any hesitation, I was thrilled to have some direction – I marched myself right over to the engineering college and changed my major. I started intro to engineering the second semester of my sophomore year. It’s interesting now to think about the emphasis placed on females in STEM and then consider some of the examples I had that showed I might have been occasionally pigeon-holed because of my gender, without even realizing it at the time. I spent the next three and a half years caught between loving some and hating some of my classes, just trying to get graduated as quickly as I could. Since that was my experience, it’s all I know – does everyone feel that way? Because of my delay in choosing my major, I ended up graduating in five years, with quite a few extra credit hours that did not apply toward my major. I discovered when I went to start looking for jobs that many of the aspects of industrial engineering I loved – the efficiency, production, operations research side – mostly took place in factories or assembly lines, which was not the kind of environment I really wanted to be a part of. I also discovered that industrial engineering can sometimes be seen as a “jack of all trades, master of none” sort of degree. We can fill quite a few roles, but not many that necessarily have to be filled by industrial engineers.
Tell me about your professional life and career.