Emily Alexander credits an Engineering and Beyond summer camp she attended in high school as one of her most influential exposures to engineering and the Iowa State University campus. Having grown up just a half hour away in Des Moines, attending Iowa State was the easy decision when it came time for college, but she needed to find a major that would lead to a career in the medical field.
“At the camp, I was attracted to mechanical engineering as a major because of the broad curriculum and greater variety of career options after graduation,” said Alexander. “I wanted to enter the medical field in some capacity after graduation and mechanical felt like the best option for my future career.”
As a student, Alexander was a teaching assistant for Toying with Technology, a course for early education majors taught by an engineering professor to expose them STEM concepts and implementing them in the classroom. The course taught computer programming using LEGO robots and did community outreach events with K-12 students in the area.
“Helping teach this course pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to improve my communication skills. I was forced to adapt my technical knowledge and learn to customize content for my audience,” said Alexander. “This skill has been invaluable in my career as I’ve worked in cross-functional teams and have needed to explain something I understand in-depth to someone who is not as familiar.”
Alexander cites courses like M E 270: Introduction of Mechanical Engineering Design and M E 324: Manufacturing Engineering as having the greatest impact on her path to becoming an engineer.
“I enjoyed M E 270 because it allowed students to explore the entire design process from start to finish in a hands-on manner,” she said. “I also really enjoyed M E 324, especially the lab. I loved the course content and felt that the lab was the best of the ME program due to the hands-on projects and variety of manufacturing techniques we had the opportunity to try out after having learned the theory about them in lecture.”
It was in M E 270 that Alexander had one of her most memorable experiences during her time at Iowa State when her team’s design was nominated as the top project from her section, meaning they would then compete with the top projects from all of the other sections. The night of the department-wide competition happened to be her birthday and she recalls working with her group in the hours leading up to the event to tweak their presentation with the hope of captivating their audience on “why our cashew sheller design for Guinea Bissau would be essential to growing their economy.”
“When the votes came in, my team had won and we were ecstatic. To this day, I’m still very proud of that project and it is probably my favorite from my undergraduate experience,” she said.
Alexander also fondly remembers some of the relationships she developed with ME faculty and staff during her time as a student. She developed a close relationship with Cindy Bartleson, assistant to the department chair in ME, and cites Gloria Starns, associate teaching professor, as being both a mentor and a friend.
“I would often drop into Gloria’s office to discuss anything from a SolidWorks technique to career advice to what we were watching most recently on Netflix,” said Alexander. “I found Gloria to be a great professor and an inspiring role model, especially for female ME students like myself who found themselves in the minority every day in class.”
In addition to her coursework, she also stayed busy with various engineering related extracurricular activities. She served as advertising co-chair for Engineer’s Week and as president of the Women in Mechanical Engineering (WiME).
“Both of these appointments taught me the importance of balance and how to prioritize multiple responsibilities. I also gained experience with setting goals and motivating a team to complete projects which are skills I use every day in the workplace,” she said.
She also spent a summer in an internship with Conductix Wampfler in Omaha, Nebraska where she developed manufacturing instructions for some of the company’s most complicated products.
“This experience taught me a lot about manufacturing quality control and related directly to my operations quality engineer position after graduation,” she said.
After completing her B.S. in ME in December 2014, she was hired as a medical device reporter for Medtronic in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota. She soon moved to a more traditional engineering position as an operations quality engineer for St. Jude Medical. She also enrolled in the Medical Device Innovation program at the University of Minnesota and recently completed her M.S. Earlier this year she was hired as a human factors engineer at Worrell Design, Inc., a small design firm in Minneapolis that provides various services for healthcare companies.