Society of Manufacturing Engineers makes history with all female officers

Claudia Wilson, assistant professor and advisor to the Society of Manufacturing Engineering. 

The Society of Manufacturing Engineering at Missouri Southern was taken by storm last semester as it was led entirely by women officers for the first time in its history.

Female students and faculty are experiencing seeing a male dominated field not only expanding to include women, but green practices as well.

Claudia Wilson, advisor of SME, is native from Germany. Wilson came to the United States to complete her master’s degree at Pittsburg State University. She pursued a career after hearing about an opening from her friend and Southern colleague, Dr. Elke Howe.

“Manufacturing Engineering focuses on anyone who is using industrial engineering technology principles,” said Wilson. “IET is a field where our students will go out and look for ways to make existing processes more efficient by cutting out material waste, waste of time, and the use of machines in a wasteful way.”

Essentially, the field is looking for the most efficient ways for a company to use their resources.

According to Wilson, an emphasis in the program is to teach students how their skills will be beneficial to companies by understanding how to “save time, money, to keep people safe, and to create a better, more efficient product.”

The Manufacturing Engineer Program at MSSU hosts the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

This theme of uplifting women in leadership roles continues this semester with Annie Smith, senior, taking over as President of SME.

 “SME has more time to go on field trips and gives you time to get to know each other as seniors leave and freshman come in,” said Smith. “They (SME) do field trips to as many different manufacturing places as they can.”

“Other than field trips, we like to do parties. At least once a semester, our group likes to do senior send off, and there are holiday gatherings and board game nights.”

Smith also mentions how she would like to get together with the Physics Club to network and collaborate.

While there is time delegated to having fun and connecting with their classmates, there are also key educational aspects implemented in SME.

“SME is a group of people who are like minded,” said Wilson. “The group itself is a nationally recognized society who has over 200,000 members worldwide. Their priority is to maintain and preserve manufacturing knowledge. We cover everything that happens in manufacturing from a technology standpoint and developing standpoint, from a workforce requirement standpoint.”

Wilson recognizes how much technology has improved over the last few years. Several companies have started using total automation, where the technology is able to troubleshoot issues and complete production without the need of manual labor.

However, because the world isn’t full of entirely autonomous technology, Wilson explains it is crucial to teach students to do more than press a button on a machine.

“Students need to leave (the program) with a level of skill because the jobs of the future might require more of an associate’s degree level of education as we are advancing and we need to go along with that,” said Wilson. “Smarter machines require smarter people to work them.”

SME allows you to learn how to spot issues in production and to utilize problem solving skills. Not only will students leave the program with a skillset admirable to future employers, but will also have spent time networking with professionals as well.

“Several people amongst the field are brought together with students in a think tank so people who have been involved longstanding can get together with students to work together and problem solve,” said Wilson. “Students can gain knowledge, meet people of the same mindset, and network amongst those companies.”

There was no surprise for Wilson that women, like herself, would be interested in a field like manufacturing engineering.

“Manufacturing engineering was male dominated, yet now it is applicable for women because there isn’t as much heavy lifting,” said Wilson. “Now companies focus more on small more efficient technology. Companies are also becoming environmentally friendly, trying to cut down the footprint they leave on nature, and everybody can find their place in this process. Looking for green, modern solutions.”

“Women are drawn to this field because of the skills needed, and because they bring a good safety dynamic in as well,” said Wilson. “We’re natural problem solvers who look to see how people can evolve and be safe and how we can help, and that is inherently the process.”

Smith mentioned she felt women would be a good fit for the field as well, but many are intimidated because they don’t know what the program is really about.

“The word engineer scares them (guys or girls in general),” said Smith. “When I tell people I am an engineer, they assume I love math. Yes, we have to do math, but it’s not like theoretical calculus, or philosophical stuff like that, it’s a lot of problem solving, which women are especially good at doing, and thinking outside the box.”

“Once people learn about what engineering is, they aren’t so afraid, and they realize it’s about critical thinking and creativity and I think all of us have this.”

Popular stereotypes tend to play a role in the career people choose.

“If you’re interested in putting puzzles together and seeing how there is a better way of doing things, or if you walk into a modern place, like Walmart, and question why there are lines anymore because we have the technology and other ways to deal with things; if this is where your mind is going, then you definitely have an aptitude for what we’re doing,” said Wilson. “If you like to naturally solve small problems, you will be right at home.” 

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