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First Collegiate President of WiM Chapter Launches Engineering Career

Nov 27, 2013

Fusing her interest in manufacturing with the goal of getting more women involved in industry, Rebecca Madsen became the first president of a Women in Manufacturing (WiM) collegiate chapter while attending Brigham Young University. She's now part of the engineering team at Nature's Sunshine Products and spoke last month at the WiM Summit.

Madsen set her sights on mechanical engineering as a BYU freshman. At Nature's Sunshine, she uses many skills honed in college, such as collaborating with cross-functional groups, problem solving and working in a fast-paced field.

"I had been involved with the women in engineering club, and I thought it was a really great support system," she recalled of her years at BYU. "But none of the students (in that club) were declared as manufacturing majors, and I was an anomaly, so to speak. I thought there should be something for our department."

She recently shared her story about starting the first national WiM college chapter with ThomasNet News Career Journal.

What prompted you to start the first chapter for Women in Manufacturing at BYU?

I had really benefited from the manufacturing department at BYU; it's a phenomenal program. I had known many women, just like my boss at Disney World (where she was an intern), that were superb examples (of leaders), and I really wanted to bring the experiences I had to the other girls in my program. I went into one of my professors who I was really close with, and I asked if we had a program and he said no...let's start one.

What resources did you need to get the chapter started?

Logistically, I needed a professor who would sponsor us, and be the advisor -- and that was Dr. Alan Boardman, and he was more than willing to fulfill that role. Also, from the WiM side, Allison Grealis (the national director of Women in Manufacturing) was very accessible and really supported it and said, "great, let's do this."

[See Related: Women in Manufacturing Summit Podcast: Allison Grealis, WiM Director]

I asked some of the other professors if they knew of any girls that were younger [and] in the program who could show real dedication, and I got a couple of people and I emailed them, and I asked them if they wanted to help me and they were very responsive. They were very willing to help, and we started an email [chain]. We decided to have a kickoff meeting, and bring Allison in [to advocate for the club].

How many members did you have?

Probably 10-15, which doesn't sound like that many, but there are only about 15-20 girls in the entire major, so that's a big representation.

Were there any women in leadership roles who made an impact on your career choice?

I got an internship at Disney World, and one of the really great parts of that internship was that my supervisor, an engineer that I worked with, Lisa Hanusiak, who was a fantastic example (of a woman in leadership). She worked very diligently and very hard, and she was very intelligent, but she was also humble and if she didn't know something, she (admitted) so, and said "I don't know now, but I'll tell you when I find out."

She had people's respect without being coerced, which is something I thought wasn't quite possible.

I thought that to be successful in a male-dominated field, you had to act like a guy and be very aggressive and just very rude in order to get people's respect, and she changed that immediately for me.

There is a shortage of women in manufacturing jobs. What can women do to spread the word that manufacturing can be an appealing career for women?

Get involved. Volunteer for everything and be an example, and really look for opportunities to reach out to others -- whether it's through mentorships, trying to get a mentor or just really be seen. Especially for younger girls, the way that you hear about a career is because someone you know has that career.

Now you have a new career. What helped you get there and is it what you expected?

Yes and no. I've had several internships within my field, and I kind of knew what to expect, if that makes sense.  I had 3 internships and then one year-long senior project that was in a company, and then a few projects here and there where I went to companies and I worked for them.  I have quite a bit of experience.

At Nature's Sunshine Products, I am on the engineering team, and my projects basically are what I like to do. If there is some sort of problem or opportunity that arises, I look for ways to improve or ways to solve problems. Right now, some of the projects I'm working on is developing a training program, or improving our guided tours through the facility, or increasing yield for encapsulation process. It's just kind of here and there improvements, which is what I like to do. I like to see things get better.