Automotive and mobility careers offer innovative thinking, diverse opportunities, and the ability to change the world. Connect with young automotive professionals to learn more about different career opportunities and where you could make an impact on global issues through the automotive and mobility industry.
Product Engineer, Continental Structural Plastics
Getting into Automotive
- What inspired you to go into the automotive and mobility field?
I studied materials science engineering in college with the aim of doing graduate work in tissue engineering, specifically manufacturing artificial organs. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit during my senior year of undergraduate studies, I was unable to find research positions under the circumstances. Luckily, materials are everywhere, and I was trained to be a jack-of-all-trades. I had previously interned as a product engineer at CSP and was given the opportunity to return and support the birth of a new program there.
- Did you grow up with family members in the automotive industry?
Yes, my dad has been in the automotive plastics industry since his graduate studies.
- What interests led you to consider a career in automotive?
Mostly a need to flex my engineering and communication muscles until the world opens. Even though automotive is not my intended field of work, it is still a very interesting environment that benefits greatly from young, fresh minds. With the innovations and refinements to previous solutions made the old way, young engineers thrive by challenging old thoughts and making changes that move the industry forward.
- When were you first exposed to automotive?
I had never taken particular interest in automotive until my college roommates introduced me to their passion. They loved Formula 1 and performance vehicles, so I was exposed to a lot of systems that are maintained with incredible tolerances to combat the forces of nature and the limits of technology. My mind loves to upgrade and fine tune and seeing a world where those are the priorities had me interested.
- Growing up, what was your impression of the automotive industry? How would you have described the industry?
Coming from a family with five hockey players and frequent travel, my top priorities in a car were: 1. How many hockey bags can it hold? and 2. How comfortable will I be on the long rides to tournaments? The auto industry gave plenty of options, but I noticed early that every company just puts slight variations on a base template for each vehicle class. The word I would use is “formulaic.”
- What college did you attend, what was your major and why did you choose that path?
I attended Purdue University where I received a BSE in Materials Science Engineering. I intended and still intend to pursue research opportunities in tissue engineering, specifically manufacturing artificial organs. I have always had a mind geared for finding problems or deficiencies and trying every solution I can to better them. My high school anatomy class opened my eyes to the fact that human bodies unfortunately take on tons of problems and deficiencies. I hope to remedy those issues so that more people can live full and healthy lives.
- Do you have additional degrees, training, or education? (I.e., graduate degree, MBA, etc.)
I also have a minor in Spanish. My high school teachers were wonderful, allowing me to enter Purdue conversationally fluent. So, I decided it was worth getting a degree to prove it.
- What opportunities did you have in college that allowed you to explore or start your career in automotive, including any co-ops or internships?
I did two summer internships at CSP, one after my freshman year and the other after my sophomore year. I worked on the one marine program at our company, but the work structure was the same as the auto side. There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, making sure to follow up with customers, the different departments within CSP, and our suppliers. As a detail-oriented teen with ridiculous summer energy I was able to knock out way too much work for an intern, but I felt accomplished because I got to see solid number results. Dates on the timeline move up, money I saved or found for the company, tolerances we were able to achieve. The experience pressed all the right buttons in my brain as an engineer.
Automotive Career: Then and Now
- What was your first job post-college? Please share any lessons learned.
This is my first job post-college. So far, I’ve learned that engineers get compensated very well for stuff my brain enjoys doing, specifically organizing, communicating, and solving problems.
- What is your role now?
I am a product engineer for a key customer working on designing a next generation version of our previous model. I am taking all our lessons learned to build a list of things to fix and prioritizing that list to create the best product for the end user, while making it cost efficient for the customer and our manufacturing.
- What projects and programs do you work on?
I work for one of our largest customer programs, the Jeep Hardtop. We design the hard top based on the functional objectives provided by Stellantis and try and marry our product to their body.
- Describe a typical day.
The typical day evolves greatly over the development cycle of the product. In this early stage, we are collecting our lessons learned from the previous iteration as well as the changes to the body that Stellantis provides us. We align our visions by meeting weekly with updates to the design, test results that were run on the components and systems, and making sure resources are allocated appropriately among our teams. In the days between those customer meetings, I am:
- Contacting our suppliers to make sure their components marry to our part and perform adequately.
- Communicating with our other teams (design, manufacturing, R&D) to make sure we are on track to design a product that meets the customer requirements that we are able to mass produce without many difficulties to our manufacturing team.
- Once a design is done, we will begin making test parts to validate our design. I will be supporting the testing by making sure we check off the laundry list of capabilities provided by Stellantis to make sure their customers are safe and have a long-lasting product they are happy with. Any deficiencies I see during testing will be documented, and I will work with the necessary teams to address the issue, whether it is in our design, our material, or our manufacturing process.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
I plan to fully support the program I am on until production is kicked off and all the initial bugs are squashed. Once I am happy with how it is running, I will pursue a graduate degree in tissue engineering so that I can make solutions that help people live happy, healthy lives.
Advice for Young Students
- Knowing what you know now, if you could give your younger self one tip or piece of advice, what would it be?
School teaches you how to learn and solve problems. Grades and heavy involvement are great things to maintain, but health needs to be first. Know what you can handle and ask for help when you need it. There is nothing wrong with saying “no” to something you cannot do.
- What advice do you have for high school students who are interested in automotive, but unsure if it’s the career for them?
There are plenty of opportunities to test the waters. Get a job with a mechanic, watch YouTube videos that are informative, contact creators and people in the industry with questions you have, get an internship.
If you do not have one of those opportunities in high school, engineering is a great place to start in your college search. There is no “car” major in college that defines what you do for the rest of your life. Mechanical and materials science engineers are needed in every industry, so if you get to graduation and you have changed your mind about automotive, that is ok. You have a ticket that can get you into any industry you want. Nothing is set in stone.
- What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Focus on your health above all. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, or you’ll never pull an all nighter to finish an assignment, but if you put a focus on all aspects of your health, you’ll be able to complete your work more efficiently and effectively. Communicate, ask for help. No one is perfect, and you aren’t vulnerable for realizing that.
- What do you love about working in the automotive industry (and specifically the automotive industry in Michigan)?
There is a lot more depth to automotive than someone unfamiliar with the industry may realize. There are considerations for every possible interaction a customer has with a vehicle, from comfort to safety to accessibility. For every component. And all those components must work in harmony, so inputs from every team that are working on each individual system are required to make the best product. Compromises are made, but so many ideas go into each system to create what you see on the road.
Michigan is a wonderful state with an abundance of fun to be had. Our climate allows for pretty much any hobby or interest to be explored. It is a hub that has a great variety of people that work together and form ideas from the partner industries around them.
- Do you participate in any organizations outside of work? Or have any hobbies (unrelated to automotive)? Do you feel the work-life balance in the auto industry allows you to continue these passions?
I am a lifelong athlete; my life has been driven by team sports that helped me become the communicator I am today. In hockey, cross country, and rowing I have been able to flex and grow my teamworking abilities, complementing the skills I need to be a great engineer.
I am also a PC gamer; I build my own computers and fine tune every aspect of them to make my experience marginally better. Settings menus and forums are my best friends.
Work uses up a good amount of my energy, but once I am done with my workday, I am free to do what I please. I do not lie awake at night worrying.