Title: Commercial Product Manager, Light Commercial Products, Ducted Systems, Johnson Controls
Educational Experience: Bachelor of science in mechanical engineering (BSME) degree, University of Colorado; and a master's degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Professional Credentials/Accreditations:Six Sigma Green Belt, American Society of Quality (ASQ); Acquisition Professional Development Program, Level I in Life Cycle Logistics, Program Management, and Systems Planning as well as Research, Development, and Engineering Systems, Air Force Air Combat Command Maintenance Instructor
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE member, three Johnson Controls Merit Awards, and U.S. Air Force Meritorious Service and Commendation Medals
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
I don't have a watershed moment when I can say that I fell in love with engineering. I would describe it as a gradual growing affection and appreciation throughout my career. When I enrolled in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Colorado, I was pursuing a technical degree as part of my enrollment in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). After graduation and commissioning, I entered the Air Force as an aircraft maintenance officer, a career field that did not require a technical degree. However, my engineering background was invaluable in understanding complex aircraft systems operation and troubleshooting, something I had to deal with every day. During those years, I was able to also hone the craft of translating these highly technical systems and procedures into succinct, easily understood narratives. My greatest love for engineering came when I decided to leave active duty Air Force and enter the corporate workforce. Like many people making drastic career changes, it can be an intimidating process translating a very specialized career into something marketable, and my engineering background really opened the door to a wide range of opportunities.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
The most rewarding part of being involved in skilled trades is how universal they are in everyday life. The HVAC industry is an important, behind-the-scenes player in the spaces where people live, work, and play. Before I was a part of the industry, I don't know that I ever noticed a rooftop unit or thought about what it did for the space it was installed on. Now, I seek them out, looking to see what manufacturer's product is installed and taking pride when it is a Johnson Controls brand, even more so when it is part of the product portfolio that I manage.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
The proudest moment of my career was being commissioned into the Air Force by my father shortly after he had retired from active duty himself. The rank he used was "butter bars" that he had worn himself as a second lieutenant. He's performed all of my promotion ceremonies since, always passing down rank that he had worn.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?
The challenges facing women in this profession, especially newcomers to any profession, include establishing your credibility and reputation. As an officer in the military, this is true even on the first day you are given a level of authority. A key to building your credibility is increasing your knowledge base, and when you're starting out, that means seeking out those highly skilled, technical experts who have been in the field for years and learning from their experiences. I don't think there's any one reason why there aren't more women in engineering, but I think that an engineering degree is thought of too narrowly. As a kid, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell you what an engineer did exactly — it probably would have been a description of working in a laboratory or doing a lot of complicated calculations. A female friend in college, who was also in the mechanical engineering program, was asked if being an engineer meant she was going to work on trains after college, like an old-school locomotive engineer. When she told this story, we all laughed, picturing her shoveling coal and pulling the whistle. I think the key to increasing the appeal is to really show how big the possibilities are after you get that degree. It’s true there are a lot of complicated calculations and lab work to graduate, but that is not the only job path available. There are so many opportunities out there for people who can talk "technical" to nontechnical people, and having an engineering degree gives you a leg up in the market.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
There isn't a set cookie-cutter schedule — it's always different and varies by the season and also what stages my active projects are in. We engage with our customer base every day, but in a normal year, the fall and winter is the "customer visit" season, when the product management team is heavily involved with factory visits and any external expos or trade shows. Active development project status really drives the type of work on the docket. At the beginning of a project, there is a lot of market research and voice-of-customer work to ensure we're developing the correct product. The middle is the engineering and technical work of design, sourcing, manufacturability, and serviceability. And, finally, comes the work to launch the product to the customer and first production. There are often several projects that are in different stages of development at the same time, which keeps things busy.
What drives/motivates you every day?
The goal is always to answer our customers’ needs and wants with our new developments and improvement projects. Completing projects that fill customers’ needs is highly motivating.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
I feel one of the biggest impacts to me as the result of the pandemic is the lack of mobility. I've found that when you can’t make specific plans because of lockdowns, it can be draining. Professionally, there hasn't been any business travel since the start of the year, and those who can have moved to remote work. Even with all the disruption to everyday work life, my job has moved forward like before. We are still developing, launching, and sustaining products. Since Johnson Controls is a global company with operations across many time zones, there has always been a certain amount of virtual collaboration, but now it has become the primary means across most teams. It will be interesting to see how the pandemic shapes the future of remote work; I think that it opens career opportunities to wider audiences and a bigger talent pool for those positions that do not need to be tied to a physical location. While we've continued to engage with customers in the virtual environment, I do miss the business travel, where some of the collaboration happens spontaneously between official discussions. In the virtual workplace, extra effort has to be made to make these moments happen.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I don't have an engineering bucket list, per se. As I've continued to learn about the industry as part of the product management team, I've enjoyed learning more about the strategic side of the business, how markets are moving, and setting product strategy. I look forward to further building these skills and fitting the ducted systems division into the larger company’s strategy goals.
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What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I play classical violin. I started taking lessons when I was 4.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
I've been lucky to have mentors throughout my career, both military and civilian, so it's hard to narrow it down to just one. Instead, I will focus on mentors I've had in three stages of my career so far. As a young officer, I was lucky to have a great group of senior, noncommissioned officers looking out for me in my first aircraft maintenance unit. Kerry Abner, Andrew Artis, Sherry Callahan, and Robert Canion are just a few people who made the unit a success. All of them had decades of aircraft experience and gave me perspective and a technical foundation as I built my leadership skills. When I decided that I wanted to leave active duty, I was lucky enough to be working for Cathy Barker, who had already had a successful military career and was working in the civil service sector at the time. Cathy is one of those people who has never met a stranger and really invests her time and energy in helping people achieve their goals. Her dedication to helping me successfully move into a new career gave me confidence in applying my skills outside of the military. She is a real example of a woman helping women succeed professionally. Finally, Eric Newberg was my first mentor in the HVAC industry at Johnson Controls and the reason I was able to start on this new career path. As my first boss outside of the Air Force, he gave me the opportunity when he hired me onto his product management team. While I didn't have any HVAC-specific experience, he saw the value in the skills I had built in the military and shaped my industry knowledge, which serves me well today.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
My best advice to new female engineers looking to enter the field is to build your credibility and become the "go-to" person over your area of responsibility. Start small and really know the ins and outs of your job. As you build up your knowledge, you can continue to expand beyond those lines. This serves you well as you grow within your job position and gives you exposure to other areas, which could spark new professional interests and a wider professional network. Knowing who to go to is a powerful tool in your repertoire.