On Saturday the Women’s Engineering Society will be hosting the annual International Women in Engineering Day (INWED18) with events based around the world and online to recognise and celebrate women who work in engineering and to show girls thinking of becoming an engineer the amazing and varied career opportunities on offer within engineering.
Here at ITI, we have a mix of different teams throughout the company working across different engineering sectors including; aerospace, additive manufacturing, automotive, marine and plant and process often on cutting edge research projects, complex PLM systems critical to manufacturing, or on creating automated software to help engineers work faster and smarter.
In the first of two profiles on engineers who work here at ITI, I spoke to Jeannette who works in the Advanced Engineering Group, who tackles complex projects across a diverse range of engineering industries.
Jeannette Geisler (Advanced Manufacturing Engineer, Milford, OH, USA).
Jeannette has been an engineer with ITI for 2 years working in the Advanced Manufacturing Group in Milford, OH. Her background is in mechanical engineering concentrating in intelligent manufacturing and design, additive manufacturing, machine learning, and optimization techniques.
In brief, what do you do at ITI?
In current and past additive manufacturing projects, I am unifying CT scan data, machine sensor data (position, thermal, etc.), path plan data, CAD part data, point or volumes of interest, and more into one CAD file and folder structure. The goal being to aid in additive manufacturing process research by filtering information into smaller datasets in certain geometric regions.
This requires developing custom software tools using the API of CADfix, filtering Big Data into useful pieces, having manufacturing knowledge of how the process works, utilizing material property knowledge to know how the data is affected, creating unique data visualizations to learn more about the process or data, and supporting the team with data organization, reports, and presentations.
What is a typical day in the life of an engineer at ITI?
It varies day to day. There are the projects that last two years, but individual tasks that might last a day/week/month. It is like asking to explain typical day of weather without accounting for the seasons.
In general, there is a problem, and I am tasked to solve it. Sometimes that means I am coding, modeling, or using features in software such as Excel or ANSYS. I tend to break the problem down like I did in undergraduate homework format:
- Known: What do we have or identify about the problem? What has been used in the past?
- Find: What are we trying to solve for or what do we want out of the solution?
- Given: What are the facts and important information I will need?
- Assumptions: What decisions am I making that affect how the solution can be used?
- Solve: What is my first or last step? How do I bring those steps together?
Nerdy: Most Definitely! However, to me, it helps as a roadmap to tackle large problems and break challenges into achievable tasks.
How did you get into engineering?
My mother would say, “Jeannette was born that way.” She says that she was in trouble when her young child took apart a bat-mobile and tightened the springs, so it would shoot further... and it worked. However, I would blame the convergence of Bill Nye, Magic School Bus, and Star Trek: Next Generation in my early childhood. I was doomed to love science.
In elementary school, I figured out how rainbows worked, made my own lemon batteries, grew trees, wrote a report on black holes, and build my own variable telescope. Vacations had to have a mandatory science museum stop. In middle school, I found a world of toothpick bridges, 2-liter pop bottle rockets, and Science Olympiad. High school was more Science Olympiad, an amazing Physics teacher, and a volunteer science show project called “Physics is Phun.” (Maybe the occasional after school experimenting with dry ice and more, I will take to my grave).
When deciding engineering as a major, it was a fit. Most high students are not building Rube Goldberg devices in their spare time. I got in to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which is a lesser known equivalent of MIT (least for Bachelors). It has been engineering ever since.
What do you love about Engineering?
To me, engineering is like breathing. As corny as that sounds, it is something that I do if I realize it or not.
Engineering is how the world works around you. How does your car work? That’s an obvious one... But how about, how was the screen you are reading this on made? How did the screen manufacturing machine work? How does the screen make differences in color and light? How did we discover we could do that? How can we improve upon the screen’s current design? Or how was the bottle of water/can of soda near you made? How do we guarantee human consumption? How could we make it easier for children/elderly/disabled drink from it? How can we counteract the pollution due to the bottle of water/can of soda? And so on, How does a bird fly? How can I make my morning coffee cheaper? How can I get to work the quickest, how, how?
Best thing is that you do not have to know. You can research, give it your best guess, try it, be right or wrong, learn from it, and repeat. With everyone around the world trying to do the similar things and sharing information, we can solve problems that seem impossible. Engineering to me is the noblest ideas/parts of humanity working together to try to benefit each other. ‘How’ can that not be irresistible?
How can industry do more to raise the bar to improve diversity in engineering?
First of all, I was lucky; I had parents that “got it,” since they were programmers themselves. I was allowed to play with Batman/Legos/Knex, explore on my bike, and dig in the dirt. I even had a broken keyboard with no cord to sit and mimic my parent’s programming. I was never told I could not do what boys do or given a doll instead. I was never forced to pick only from the pink aisles in toy stores. No one questioned my fashion sense of mismatching cotton dresses with sweatpants. I was allowed to be me.
In general, number one to create more engineers, regardless of gender, is to invest in young children’s scientific education. I was exposed early and often to science. By the time I encountered the “you are a girl; you cannot do science” attitude in middle school, I already had the confidence to know they were wrong. (If anything, it turned into stubbornness to prove anyone otherwise.) Regardless, I should have been able to point to Edith Clarke, Emily Roebling, Lillian Gilbreth, Stephanie Kwolek, Hedy Lamarr, and on and on. These names should be as familiar as Ford, Edison, Tesla, etc.
It was not till college, especially graduate school that I felt my gender was a significant issue in engineering. I had professors try to fail me with the similar responses as male students. I have encountered becoming the secretary in group projects, because no male student would volunteer for organizing the information/report writing. They wanted to do the “real engineering.” (It turned into being a benefit, since I did the “real project manager-ing”) Constant asking if I need help in machine shops or manufacturing floors when performing my job completely and safely. I witnessed the harassment of other female interns; I was harassed for saying it was unacceptable. There is a problem that needs to be recognized and solved.
When first transferring to industry, it got worse. Initial pay typically is less for women engineers, which will affect future salaries. Work had to be better than male colleagues, which meant more effort after hours. Judgment based on how you look, if you are wearing makeup, and the amount that you smile. You become a company token to pull out for marketing gimmicks, meant to be seen and not heard. Life decisions are not celebrated but judged based on how they will impact the company. Industry does not have that much control over general society trends and norms. However, industry can control the culture they create within their individual companies.
It comes down to humans have “fight or flight” instincts. As stated earlier, I am stubborn to a fault, so I will keep fighting. Maybe the next generation of women will not experience the same hurdles. Nevertheless, I see fellow women engineers fleeing, because they have had enough, enough of the micro and occasional macro aggressions day after day. Women need a pathway to maintain being an engineer and balancing life’s challenges. Technology is helping with this: VPNs, Remote Desktop, WebEx, etc. Still, the first step is industry needs to listen to their female engineers, which is why I am honored to be featured in this blog at ITI and a part of INWED 2018.
#INWED18 is on the 23rd of June. Have a look at the INWED18 website and find out how you can help to encourage women and girls to get into engineering.