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Career Quick Look
Salary: $69,850* Education:
Years in Field: 20 A.A.S. in Mechanical Engineering; B.S. in Applied Psychology and Organizational Behavior; Certificate in Diamond Grading; Certificate in Bookkeeping and Record-keeping; Certificate in Jeweler-Goldsmith Training; A.S. in Mechanical Drafting.
City/State: Lancaster, PA View Carolyn Trimble-Weber's Resume

"I always was mechanically inclined," Carolyn says. "My dad was one of those guys that took me under his wing…he never treated me like a girl, I was just a person. And I've never thought of careers in terms of male or female."

In an increasingly competitive world, she believes cooperation will be essential, regardless of your field. "If our companies are going to be successful - not only that, our communities, our country-we have to put aside gender bias, and any kind of bias, and utilize the talents of all our people," she says.


Getting Started: In her sophomore year of high school, Carolyn discovered a passion for hand crafted jewelry. "They had a new teacher," she says, "and in my 10th grade year she started this amateur jewelry class that I fell in love with." After graduation, she spent three years in training as a jeweler and goldsmith, and eventually started a business of her own. She qualified as a diamond grader, learned to do her own books and all the aspects of running an independent business.

When she and her husband divorced in 1999, Carolyn found herself a single mother of three, at a crossroads. "I didn't have his benefits. I had no 401k," she says. Determined to start a new life, she scaled back the jewelry business and decided to return to an earlier interest: mechanical engineering. Carolyn applied for and won a full scholarship to nearby Thaddeus Stevens Technical College, which she chose for its small-class environment and academic reputation. She graduated in May 2001.

While earning her A.A.S. degree wasn't easy ("I couldn't have picked something harder," she laughs), Carolyn is delighted with her new career. "It's the coolest thing," she says, " I'm just so enthusiastic about it. There are so many different things I can do with this degree."

Education: "I was afraid when I divorced that I was going to end up being a welfare mom," Carolyn says, "because I couldn't make ends meet with my jewelry business." She was attending a program for women in transition at the local YWCA, when she learned about Thaddeus Stevens, which was founded as a school for indigent boys, but has been co-educational since 1976. "They set up funding for people that qualify academically and financially for scholarships," Carolyn says. "I got to go there absolutely for free."

Carolyn travels frequently to the state capitol in Harrisburg, to promote Stevens and other technical colleges. "The education that Stevens gave me has afforded me a lifetime of self-sufficiency," she says. "They offer a lot of scholarships. I recruit people all the time." Carolyn says there's a big demand for students entering the technical fields, especially for females and minorities. "We had 99% job placement, after graduation," she says.

In addition to the scholarship, Carolyn says she liked the small classes and accessible teachers at Stevens. "I picked it on purpose," she says, "because being almost 40, going back to college with kids was a challenge." At times, she discovered this could be an advantage. "I found that we non-traditional students were extremely focused and motivated," Carolyn says. "We were there to pound the books and get our education and get on the job."

Greatest Professional Achievement: As part of her A.A.S. degree, Carolyn completed two professional internships, one for a company called Ross Technology, which designs security products for government and military use. She was highly involved in helping develop a new flooring product for military planes and helicopters - for which she put in more than 170 hours, from research and documentation of government specifications, to heading out into the field. "I got to meet with a senior test flight engineer at Boeing in Philadelphia," Carolyn says. "That was awesome."

Barriers: In one of her early positions, Carolyn found herself hired as chief inspector at an all-male machining company. "I was the first woman to have a position there in 50 years of the company's history" she says. "So of course it was difficult. I was a young woman in my 20s, telling men that have worked there for 50 years what to do." At first, she admits, "I wasn't greeted well … I really had to prove myself." She made an effort to establish relationships with workers on the shop floor, and took the initiative in developing programs to reduce the company's 'scrap rate' of product.

"They allowed me to take a group of machine operators and train them in metrology equipment and procedures, because I thought that was the first line of defense to improve quality," she says. It was tough going at first - feeling constantly challenged - but Carolyn took the scrap rate down from 25% to 3% per month, and eventually, she says, "I was accepted."

Working with Men: Having worked in machine shops, Carolyn is no stranger to a male-dominated workplace, and admits "it can be hard." Relationships with co-workers tend to be far less personal, for example. "I'm a single mom, and I have kids and they didn't want to know that," she says.

These days, however, she's noticed a shift among her employers in the engineering field. "I find that companies are welcoming women," she says. "They like the fact that we are inherently different than men, and that we offer a different perspective on problem-solving. We just look at things differently." She says her experience is echoed in conversations with other female engineers. "We all have kind of the same story that we do see things differently than men," she says. "And when you're problem-solving that's invaluable."

Advice for Women: "In a male environment, you just can't be personal," Carolyn says. "You need to be very private and very businesslike. After I got into my jobs, I was able to loosen up a little bit. But making a first impression, letting people know how you want to be treated, you really need to dictate that right from the start."

She also advises women to choose mentors carefully - to find someone who'll "go to bat for you" or offer advice. "I think that can be a very valuable experience," she says.

Typical Workday/Environment: Depending on her assignment, a typical morning for Carolyn starts with reviewing a mechanical process in a particular workplace, to see if there are problems or areas to improve. "I've been mainly dealing in metrology and quality processes, so usually from the night shift I want to know about process improvements or what has gone wrong," she says. "From that I'll take information and compile an analysis of what's going on, make recommendations for a quality process or process improvement. There's a lot of documentation, but it also involves getting up out of my office, going out and walking around in the shop environment." Her experience as an inspector on shop floors has taught her the importance of observing a process firsthand. "I make a point - even if I have to do that on my breaks or at lunchtime - I go out and observe every machine and get a working relationship with different people," she says.

If she's working from home, Carolyn has a computer set up to perform pro-engineering drawing. "I use all Microsoft office programs, Excel and all that, where I can analyze something." As a mother, she appreciates having such flexibility. "Hooray for today's modern technology where you can work from home!" she says. "With a lot of mechanical engineering, you can send drawings and information very easily back and forth."

Career Ladder: In the mechanical engineering field, most people start off as AutoCads, or drafters, where they look over drawings made by senior engineers, and make changes as necessary. Salaries for these positions typically start at $25-30,000 a year. Carolyn says she also knew a student from her class who went to work at a major medical center, working on prototype drawings for an artificial heart. "So you can see there's a whole range of areas," she says. "You can also do things like product definition. You can do fluid mechanics. You can do mechanical design-which has to do with columns and buildings, the structures, how much they can support. All kinds of analytical things. What I do is analyze processes, work on quality control and project management."

Professional Associations: A member of the Society of Mechanical Engineers, as well as the Professional Jeweler's Guild, Carolyn also sits on the committee for the Stevens College of Technology Women's Center, and started an organization called WITT (Women in Technology and Trades) at the college. She also serves on the Junior Achievement Women's Symposium Committee.

Hobbies: Outside of work, Carolyn remains dedicated to helping women and girls access more opportunities. She's been involved with the Girl Scouts as a troop leader, organizer and consultant for the last several years, and also works with a program called ACT (Accessing Careers in Technology), whose goal is to introduce middle and high school girls to various technical fields. Carolyn has put her own experience to work in a program called 'New Options, New Choices' - aimed at displaced homemakers and women in transition - through the local YWCA. "It helps build self-esteem and self-confidence, and helps women assess what they would best be suited for," she explains.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Mechanical Engineer based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

 


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