Women Behind Innovation: Kelly DeShaw

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Balancing work and children isn’t an easy task, but for those who are dedicated to their craft, like Kelly DeShaw, giving up on either front is not an option. Starting her career in 1997 with Amphenol, DeShaw worked towards associate degree in electrical engineering technology at SUNY Broome Community College. She continued while working full time on my bachelor’s degree in electro/mechanical technology at Rochester Institute of Technology until years of juggling being a mom and a demanding career stopped me short of finishing.

In 2011, she landed a job as a technician in the manufacturing engineering department at The Raymond Corporation, and has been there ever since. DeShaw also finished her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology and was promoted to a manufacturing engineer, the position in which she currently holds.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with DeShaw about her interest in science + engineering, what misconceptions she feels people have about the fields and some of her career highlights. Here’s what she had to say:(edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in engineering begin?

Very young! I was always curious and interested in how things worked and how to make them better. My grandfather and father were both engineers. However, they were computer engineers, and that was something that didn’t interest me — until I understood my father was a hardware engineer, not involved in programming. Then I was interested! I would help him when he worked for IBM and then when he started his own business. My brother also is a science guy. He has a doctorate in condensed matter physics and would teach himself from a very young age, like I did. I also had the same love of math and physics that my brother did. We just went different paths — we both laugh about the The Big Bang Theory analogy of physicist vs. engineer, when Sheldon goes to see Howard and refers to engineers as the Oompa Loompa’s of science. We both recognize the important contributions technicians, engineers and scientists make in the industry, and we have the same love and passion. I have always enjoyed the hands-on part of the job.

What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?

During the time I was studying in this field, there were very few other women in engineering until the past decade. The women I did have to study with, as well as the men, were very supportive. We always helped one another as we all had different strengths and weaknesses with the curriculum. Being a woman in this field has presented some, but very few, challenges for me. Those challenges mostly come as a result of the mindset that a female cannot perform at the same level as a man. It has happened with former colleagues and it still happens with colleagues. To overcome this, I prove my abilities and I get a very high level of respect from my colleagues. I am always supported from my management in my decisions. I am the first to admit when I am wrong, and I will always defend my stance when I am right. At each turn of my career, I have always had a great network of people to reach out to. I still keep in touch with many past colleagues and professors. We work together and utilize each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I never feel alone or without a resource of some sort to get the help and support necessary.

What do you like about your field and what you do?

I love the hands-on aspect and the learning. I am as happy (perhaps happier) with getting my hands dirty in the project! I love the grease and tools! I get a nice balance of that with the project administrator role, which has aspects of being a lawyer, accountant, manager and psychologist, as well as packaging knowledge, technical expertise and so much more. As a manufacturing engineer, I am part of a project from concept through implementation. There is ALWAYS something that can be learned. It feeds my thirst for knowledge and love of science!

Do you think people have any misconceptions about what it’s like to be an engineer or about the field itself?

I think there are many misconceptions about science, technology and engineering. There are so many specialties and disciplines, and because of this, these subjects cannot have a blanket description. They encompass everything, from a fidget spinner to a satellite. It also includes other factors on production of inventions and how they are produced, tested, manufactured, etc. These are all considerations in making an idea into a real-life marketable idea or product.

To date, what project is your greatest success? What is the story behind that innovation?

Aside from the work I’ve done with my employers and the work I’ve done on projects over the years, the impact I have made as mentor for Project Lead the Way has been the most rewarding. This is my greatest achievement, and I’m proud of the impact I have been able to make on these bright young minds. Raymond, at all levels, supports encouraging kids of all ages in the science and technology field. My personal time and attention has been helpful, but the company support opens a huge resource that I cannot provide alone. For instance, during their last project, they utilized our 3D printing tools to make their prototypes. The importance of educating and guiding youth is imperative to the future. I believe in fostering their love of science and encouraging their future careers. To see the groups’ amazing ideas turn into products gives me great pride. The fact I can help guide and show them through my experience what opportunities they have in the science and technology is a privilege.

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