- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
During my internship at Whirlpool, I was a part of the Aesthetics Engineering team for Vertical Axis (VA) Laundry. In this role, I was in charge of providing the background data for a consumer study to determine the engineering parameters for new washing machine lids. I also completed the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) for different aesthetic parts on washing machines.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Before interning at Whirlpool, I had never been a part of an engineering team in a corporate environment. It was more fast-paced than I had expected, and I enjoyed being a part of the product development process. However, I did not expect to be on the mechanical engineering side of things. While I thought the product development process would be what I wanted to do, I now believe I would enjoy being on a team that works outside of product development. At my next company, I want to work in product innovation and try to find the next big thing. I think this will allow me to be more creative and work with advanced materials, instead of rushing to get a product to consumers.
I also felt a lot less out of place as a woman engineer than I thought I would. Whirlpool puts a lot of emphasis of diversity and inclusion, and even though there weren’t many women from the older generation of engineers, the young professionals were almost 50% women. It was so neat to be able to look around the office and see visible change. I built a strong network of other women engineers, both full time and interns, who made me feel confident and like I belonged.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
The product development process allows very little room for error. There is a strict timeline that moves through different checkpoints in order to release new products one right after the other. I always thought that innovation happened during product development, but product development is just putting the puzzle together. When Whirlpool leadership goes into the room to create the guidelines for a new project, they draw from a bank of innovations that were already validated by the Advanced Development team. When I got to see the work that the Advanced Development team did, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. They work on a much smaller scale with teams made up of specialists from every discipline, charting the course for the company all the way through 10 years in the future. One of the best parts of my internship was going to the Future Product Expo, an annual conference that Whirlpool puts on for its top investors to confirm their confidence in the direction of the company. After the investors leave, they open the exhibits up to employees. I can’t wait to have some of the innovations I saw there in my kitchen!
Additionally, within product development, very little materials science is done. Just like the innovations, the materials are selected during the concept phase, and the product development teams just make them work. Especially for a company like Whirlpool, whose machines are made up of hundreds of different parts, most of those parts are made by external suppliers. The suppliers do all the materials development, but it is Whirlpool’s job to make sure those materials work in their products and to know what new materials different suppliers can provide. The group that does this work is composed of experts in specific fields of materials, like metals, glass, and polymers. This is also work I know I would really enjoy, since it involves working with people and bringing the latest materials innovations to a consumer product.
The work that I was doing on the Aesthetics team felt mostly like fighting fires. Aesthetics engineers bridge the gap between the industrial designers and the engineers that make the internal moving pieces. Aesthetic pieces must also conform to craftsmanship standards to make sure the machines look cohesive and prevent consumers from tinkering too much with internal workings. It was great working on a team that touched so many different aspects of the laundry team, but I was mostly just checking suppliers’ work and double-checking CAD specifications. Unfortunately, the work that I was doing was very real day-to-day work that an engineer at Whirlpool does. After working within a corporation that does both fast-paced work and long-term product strategy, I saw that product innovation is the happy medium between the academic research I have done in the past and the product development work I did during my internship.
Throughout this learning process, I had an amazing mentor who was also a woman engineer. She was only 28 and just starting to move her career towards people management, so I was her first intern that she managed. I wouldn’t say we were friends, since she was for all intents and purposes my boss, but she was dedicated to making sure I had the best internship possible. She set me up with networking connections all around the company and took time for me whenever I needed it. Most importantly, she was honest about her career at Whirlpool and was open to talking about the challenges she had faced as a woman in the workplace. I never felt alone or lost at work because of her, and I hope to someday be the mentor to another young female engineer that she was for me.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
When I left my research assistant position after Sophomore year, I felt that engineering might not be for me. This internship was a chance for me to see another side of engineering and hopefully find something that I could see myself doing after graduation. I went into this summer worried that I wouldn’t want to pursue any engineering career paths after working so hard to get an engineering degree. I was also nervous that I wouldn’t be prepared to do real engineering work.
I left this internship happy and relieved to have found a path within engineering that I am excited about and to know that everything I have learned as made me ready to enter the workplace. I was even able to confidently decide that the Whirlpool rotational program wasn’t the right fit for me because of its heavy emphasis on mechanical and electrical engineering. However, I really valued Whirlpool’s culture of diversity and inclusion, especially within engineering. I am thankful to know what a good environment looks like, since I believe I will be able to tell whether a company is a good place for me to start my career as a woman engineer. Now that I know what to look for, the search for my first full-time job seems much less intimidating. In fact, I am looking forward to seeing all the possibilities that this next chapter in my life holds.
Left: INNOVA Case Competition Team
Right: World of Whirlpool visit