By Katie Neitz

The College’s inaugural Women in STEM Week kicked off with a panel discussion in which eight alumni with varied tech careers across a broad range of industries shared lessons learned and advice for current students.

 

Eight alumni in tech fields returned to campus to talk about their careers for Women In STEM Week.

Donna Anderson ’82
Bio: “I have enjoyed more than 30 years of successful and fulfilling employment in the energy industry. I began my career with Baltimore Gas and Electric where I held the positions of operations engineer, project scheduler, and generation planning engineer. Following the energy industry deregulation in the early 2000s, I moved to the energy trading sector with industry leader NRG where I modeled energy pricing. I closed my career with positions at world-class consultancies Navigant and Siemens.”

Advice: “I was one of the first women hired at Baltimore Gas and Electric. No one knew what to do with me. I learned from the ground up about the power industry without the benefit of having a mentor. And so when I had the opportunity, I started mentoring other young women who were joining the power industry. I didn’t have one, so I tried to help others. That’s something important to remember—that there is always someone willing to help you further your career, but you may have to admit you could use the help and seek it out.”

Heather Bernardin ’90
Bio: “I received my B.S. in electrical engineering and began working for the Navy while I pursued my M.S. in computer engineering from Villanova University. I worked in a wide range of fields including defense and pharmaceuticals. I am currently employed as a solutions architect for KSM Technology Partners where I specialize in IT development for the pharmaceutical industry. In this role, I have served as both technical lead and project manager for multinational teams and have managed team members from other companies while bringing the projects in on schedule. I have been a professional member of the Philadelphia Society of Women Engineers section for almost 25 years and am an active member in the society.”

Advice: “When looking at jobs, look for opportunities that make you a little nervous. Your first day may feel scary. But pursuing something out of your comfort zone will enable you to grow.”

Janet Brown ’80
Bio: “After I graduated with an electrical engineering degree, I moved to Utica, N.Y., to work for GE in their Advanced Course program, and I obtained my MSEE from Syracuse University. I then moved to Washington, D.C., to work with a radar consulting firm and then the MITRE corporation. I left engineering in the ’90s to run my own sign company for about 14 years. I took some time off to raise my children and worked part time. I returned to Lockheed Martin in 2004, and I am presently working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. My current work is independently assessing the capability of our ballistic missile defense systems for the government.”

Advice: “I was the only woman in the electrical engineering program at Lafayette, and when I started at GE, there were only three women, including me. It’s important to remember to follow your heart. If you know you are good at something, if you and your heart know it, then just go for it.”

Ruth Douglas Miller ’84
Bio: I chose electrical engineering at Lafayette after taking the circuits class: a field where the math works, with no fudge factors! I graduated in 1984 and went straight to the University of Rochester, where I earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering, emphasizing bioelectromagnetics. I followed my geologist husband to Kansas State University, where he had a postdoctoral position. The electrical and computer engineering department at KSU was delighted to hire another woman, and I remained there 27 years, working in bioelectromagnetics and then, after my son was born, in renewable energy (wind and solar). My husband and I retired from KSU and moved back to Pennsylvania in 2017.”

Advice: “After teaching for 27 years, it has been my observation that it’s those women who don’t notice or care or mind that most of their co-workers are male who succeed. And those who want to see other women around them struggle to feel comfortable in a male-dominated workplace. My advice would be to know yourself, what you need to feel comfortable, and to choose or create the environment you need. You should feel comfortable in your workplacedon’t think you must jump at the first offer. You have choices, and employers need and want you.”  

Leigh Grygotis Cherry ’91
Bio: I majored in electrical engineering, and I joined Merck & Co. in the pharmaceutical industry directly from Lafayette and remained there for 24 years. After my first six years, Merck sponsored me to obtain my full-time MBA at Harvard Business School. I returned to Merck after obtaining my MBA and accepted a position in business development, negotiating corporate transactions from the supply chain perspective. I then accepted a position as chief of staff to the senior VP of European, Middle East, and Africa operations, helping to shape Merck’s performance at 11 international manufacturing sites. Then, I led Merck’s solid dosage manufacturing facility in West Point, Pa., and from there served as plant manager at Merck’s largest biologics and vaccines manufacturing facility in the same location. After that, I led the supply chain business development function responsible for executing over 100 transactions across four years, and also served as the value chain leader for Merck’s $10B Primary Care franchise. After 24 years at Merck, I left to join a biotechnology startup company, where I led the overall manufacturing and supply chain function accountable for the company’s three orphan drug candidates in the clinical phase. I then joined Johnson & Johnson. I currently lead the external manufacturing function in the Janssen pharma sector at J&J, accountable for externally manufactured large molecule products.”

Advice: “Do the hard stuff early in your career when you have the energy and momentum. Seek out leadership opportunities whenever they come. Have a volunteer spirit: Be the person who is willing to jump in and try new things.”

Carol Nelson-Felzenberg ’82
Bio: “At Lafayette I earned my electrical engineering degree and focused on digital hardware design. I started my career in the early ’80s in the high-tech industry, designing software and digital hardware for office automation equipment and then electronic scales. I left engineering in the early ’90s and used my analytic thinking skills in other industries. I handled the business and finance aspects of an electrical engineering design firm for over 17 years. My career has now transitioned to the nonprofit/foundation sector.  Recently, I was part of a Verizon Corporate Social Responsibility team bringing a next-generation STEM technology-focused curriculum to K-12 students in under-resourced communities within the U.S.”

Advice: “Take job opportunities that will give you hands-on experience and will allow you to learn and grow professionally. I think it’s best not to take jobs as project managers too early in your career. You need to gain project experience first; I recommend exploring different areas within electrical engineering or computer science. You can move to different departments or change companies once you develop that fundamental experience. Try a few things to develop your interests and pick a career path that makes you happy.”

Katherine Pannell ’88
Bio: “I went into engineering based on slightly higher SAT math scores and a desire to not write papers. It really wasn’t the best fit for me academically or, as it turns out, professionally. Through a Lafayette alum, I found an EE job designing boards, working for a large defense contracting company. On the first day of the job, I had an emergency appendectomy. When I came back to work, the job had been filled, and the company offered me a software engineering job, writing C, instead. I was completely unqualified for the job with only one semester of Fortran sophomore year. There was a huge learning curve, but it was worth it. Software was the way to go, particularly as the ’90s revved up. I worked on an unmanned submarine, towed arrays, anti-missile missiles, and airline industry documentation and communication delivery systems. Since 2001, when starting my family, I have continued to work, very part time, on an in-house application that I wrote with a team in the late ’90s that remains in use and requires upgrades and feature enhancements.”

Advice: “If you work in the defense industry, you can potentially get laid off—a lot—depending on what contracts the government decides to continue to fund. I learned that it’s not a bad thing. I just took it as a kick in the rear to move into a new position, a new industry. I also learned the value of making friends at work—colleagues who will make work more enjoyable and help you find your next job. It was at Lafayette that I learned how to build connections and strong friendships, from my roommates to my fellow EEs.”

Catherine M. Sigda Voorhees ’82
Bio: After my junior year at Lafayette College, I secured a job at Bethlehem Steel as an assistant maintenance engineer for I-beam production. However, in 1982, the steel industry tanked. Thus, in the spring of 1982, just before graduation, I was looking for a new job when I met a sorority alum’s husband who told me, ‘Go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Go to law school. You will make a lot of money as a patent attorney.’ I followed his advice to the tee. I became a patent examiner for the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Arlington, Virginia. I examined patent applications in the electrical heating arts of metal heating or welding while attending George Mason University School of Law at night. I then worked as a patent attorney and prosecuted and litigated patent applications in the U.S. and foreign countries. I also wrote patent applications and dealt directly with inventors. Currently, I’m a primary patent examiner in the electrical stimulation medical art.”

Advice: “Always get health insurance. The growth of technology enables a lot of flexibility. Good companies value the work/life balance. I enjoy that I can work remotely; I can live anywhere I want.”

Categorized in: Alumni, Alumni Success Stories, Careers, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering, News and Features

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