Have you ever wondered what an engineer is or what they do?
Meet my friend and former co-worker, Gabi Patrick. She is a Chemical and Materials Engineer and works as a New Material Technology Project Manager at Toyota Motor North America.
I recently interviewed her for my blog. Here’s a glimpse into her engineering profession in the automotive industry.
Q: When and how did you become interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)? Do you have a specific memory or event that happened in your life that helped you choose your career path?
A: I have this vivid memory of me asking my Mom about empty space (air). I kept asking my Mom: “Mom, what is this?” <while making circular motions with my hands in the bathroom>. She couldn’t understand what I meant. I think of that question often… and how far it has gotten me.
Q: Growing up, what were your favorite subject(s)?
A: I loved math, physics and chemistry. Math to me was like a puzzle to be solved. Physics was more like a hands on game, and chemistry was magic!
Q: In your own words, how would you describe engineering to a child?
A: Engineering is like a big puzzle with nuts, bolts, legos, rubber bands, and a pinch of pixie dust!
Q: What did you study in college and how / why did you choose it/them?
A: Chemical Engineering & Materials Engineering
When I was in elementary school, my aunt who worked in the polymers industry brought me a bag of plastic pellets. I was fascinated by them, so I decided to follow chemicals the rest of my middle school and high school years. Finally, when it was time to decide a major, I decided on Chemical Engineering. Once I was deep in my college years, I took a class on materials (metals, ceramics and plastics) and decided to focus on materials for my graduate degree, specifically ceramic coatings.
Q: Are your college studies helpful to you in your career now? How or why?
A: Absolutely. College studies are the backbone to my career and the understanding of my daily responsibilities. Some days are more technical than others, some days we think about costs, other days we really think about efficiency, or productivity, but without understanding the science behind it, it would be really difficult to get my job done.
Q: What roles / job titles have you had in the engineering profession and how would you describe them?
A: Storm water engineer: I analyzed how much rain we got and decided the best ways to avoid flooding around the city. Paint Process Engineer: I managed a very long process that coated a vehicle with a rust proof paint. Materials Engineer: I tested new paints to make sure they were the same color by changing how they were applied. New Materials Technology Project Manager: I collaborate with designers, production engineers and suppliers on the material development before it goes on the vehicle.
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the most important attributes or characteristics that an engineer must have to be successful?
A: Patience, haha… Focus, be a good listener, learn something new every single day, take constructive criticism, and have fun!
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: I get to work with people who have one goal: make the best cars in the world. My job has taught me patience, perseverance, humility, and respect.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of your career?
A: Learning to accept mistakes and acknowledging failures.
Q: What is one of your most fun, exciting or even embarrassing memories in your career?
A: My most embarrassing moment, and funny, has been the day I broke a stress toy at work. I had just had a difficult conversation with a superior and became really upset. My coworker handed me a very special stress toy donkey and I broke it in half. Sorry Larry! I’ll buy you a new one.
Q: What would your advice be to parents and educators to help their children build confidence and interest in the STEM?
A: Make it fun. Expose kids to different sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, math, etc.). Use daily, living examples, because in the end, we engineers work on daily living problems. Teach them how to think and solve, instead of ‘copy and repeat’. Focus on project-based learning, ask them to research, go look and understand.
Q: In conclusion, what else would you like to add for parents reading this?
A: Don’t force a child into liking something specific. Expose them at a young age to all subjects but teach them how to think and solve problems. This is essential for any career, life problem, and eventually success… and please, have fun at it!
If you would like to connect with Gabi, you can find her on LinkedIn under her full name, Gabriela Patrick.
Did you enjoy this interview? Did it give you a better understanding of engineering? Does it help you with teaching your child? Would you like to see more like it?