Title: Manufacturing Engineer III, Heatcraft Refrigeration Products
Educational Experience: MBA, operations management, Georgia State University; bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, Ohio State University
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Six Sigma Green Belt (Lennox Intl. and United Technologies Co.); Six Sigma Black Belt trained (Lennox Intl. and United Technologies Co.); University of Georgia Sanitation, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), and internal auditing-certified
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineering
What does your day-to-day job entail?
My regular job revolves around managing projects. However, you can usually find me on the plant floor or engaging with the operators. I work with the product development engineering team to review complex jobs and ensure the designs are manufacturable. I also work with a cross-functional team to troubleshoot design, production, and internal/external quality issues, allowing me to address process improvement for related projects.
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
Growing up, I always enjoyed science and math. Engineering wasn't my first choice when I was in high school. While helping my parents' restaurant business, I recall one of the customers was a professor at Ohio University with whom I occasionally discussed my career path. He recognized my strength in science and math and encouraged me to pursue an engineering degree. While seeking an engineering degree at Ohio State University, I had co-op and internship opportunities in the manufacturing environment. During those days, I spent most of my time on the production floor. These internships helped me realize how much I enjoyed troubleshooting and assisting people in making their jobs easier. Even when working in the quick service restaurant (QSR) sector as a product development engineer, I constantly applied manufacturing engineering concepts and knowledge when I worked with a chef to develop new recipes. The knowledge I've learned from QSR also helps me view the issue from a different angle and think outside the box, making engineering more exciting.
What has been the most rewarding/proudest aspect of your engineering career?
The most rewarding/proudest aspect of my engineering career is making production operators' jobs easier and helping them succeed. For example, when I started with Lennox Intl. as an industrial engineer, my primary responsibility was conducting time study and helping streamline the process. I failed to include operators' inputs when I implemented the new equipment and received resentment from the operators. I admitted my mistake, maneuvered my behavior to get their input, modified the equipment to make it more user-friendly, and finally got their buy-in with the new process. I was disappointed in myself throughout the implementation process, especially toward the final stage. While walking back to the production area, one of the operators stopped by and briefly chatted with me. I told him I knew they didn't like me, and they felt I enjoyed coming out to the floor to change their process and hated me. And then he replied, "Ms. Grace, you may feel like we don't like you, but I want you to know you are the most respected engineer we've ever had." I was shocked with joy. From that moment, I always involve the operators in any initiative.
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 challenge women face in this profession is that people tend to hold a stereotype that female engineers do not have the capability for hands-on work. For example, I was at a job site observing unit installation, and it required me to climb onto the top of the roof. I approached these demands the same as any engineer would — by using Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance but never minimizing myself because I am a woman. Upon returning to the office, a field engineer commented on how he and his teammate changed their views when they saw me climb to the top of the roof. I believe the stereotype has prevented more women in engineering. The way to increase the number of women in engineering is by recruiting more female engineers for co-ops or internships. Of course, having a role model and good mentor will help and encourage more women in engineering.
How many years have you been active in the engineering sector? What’s changed the most in that time? What’s changed the least?
It has been 20 years since I became active in the engineering sector. I do see a slight percentage increase of women in the engineering field but not much growth of female engineers in the manufacturing environment.
What drives/motivates you every day?
What drives/motivates me every day is my passion for helping others and working to make their jobs more accessible and more effective. While in the QSR industry, I learned the concept of servant leadership — essentially how to serve others. The idea teaches me to be compassionate, have accountability, and serve others — ultimately guiding employees to be successful, which aligns with my beliefs and passion for helping others. My desire to help drives/motivates me every day.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I haven't put many things on my engineering bucket list. But, I genuinely hope there will be a chance to recruit more women in engineering, especially in the manufacturing environment. I believe there is so much to learn in the manufacturing environment, where you can train yourself to adapt to the differences, be more collaborative, challenge yourself to move to the next level, and be a successful servant leader.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I played violin when I was in elementary school.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe precisely how they’ve shaped your success.
I was blessed to work with several tremendous people throughout my career who impacted me greatly. Christina Bongo-Box, Kevin Kapplemann, Patricia Walker, and Danielle Peavy molded servant leadership into my professional development. These individuals always showed compassion, provided unbiased opinions, and reminded me how to exemplify my strengths. Specifically, they encouraged me to perform lessons learned from my mistakes and gave me sound counsel when I had to make decisions that helped drive my career. Their solid support allowed me to improve and make myself a better role model to others. It is imperative to have a solid support system.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
First, you must trust/believe in yourself. Never be afraid to fail. Continuous improvement is what makes us successful. Second, identify your strengths and brand your own identity. Women in engineering tend to be treated based on what they can do, not on their potential. Third, you must ensure you have a solid, reliable support system and mentor who is willing to provide guidance and support when needed. Of course, that support system can also be your cheerleaders when it comes time to celebrate.