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  • Writer's pictureSuzie Olsen

Interview with a STEM Professional: Felicia Green

Felicia Green was destined to graduate from New Mexico State University (Las Cruces) with a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering—before she was born, her baby shower was celebrated in the Physics Department of New Mexico State University (NMSU). At the time Felicia’s mother was an administrator for NMSU, where Felicia and her sister created many memories over their mother’s 39 years of service to the university. Once Felicia started attending NMSU for engineering, she would meet up with her mother every week for coffee. She’s a NMSU Aggie through and through.

After graduating with her Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, Felicia took a job with General Dynamics. At General Dynamics, Felicia received the Engineering Excellence Award for being part of the design team that created an innovative approach for a US Marine Corps (USMC) program. The design approach saved the USMC resources by creatively providing environmental protection for communication equipment.

Today, you’ll find Felicia at United Technologies Aerospace Systems working on research and development for electromechanical actuators. In addition to her engineering job, Felicia has many identities: she is a PhD candidate at Grand Canyon University studying Performance Psychology; she is the founder and administrator of the Facebook Group “Engineering Working Moms;” she is the newsletter editor of the Society Women Engineers Phoenix Section; she is an avid amateur photographer (she won a Blue Ribbon in Photography at the Arizona State Fair); and she is a mother and wife.

Below is Felicia’s path into engineering and psychology, and (as Felicia demonstrates) about embracing all your identities!

Suzie: Describe what you do as an engineer.

Felicia: High level, I work on electromechanical actuators. I am a mechanical engineer and my task is to help develop the test environment. I just started in a new group at the beginning of 2018, so I’ve been learning so much and it has been a ton of fun! Before this, I used to work as a mechanical engineer doing circuit card assembly packaging for airplane electronics. Before that, I worked at General Dynamics and received an Engineering Excellence award for being part of a design team that created an innovative approach to a Marine Corps program. [The innovative approach] basically saved the [Marine Corps] resources by coming up with a novel way to environmentally protect deploy electronics.

Suzie: What do you like best about engineering? What would you brag about relating to your job?

Felicia: I like to solve problems in the most creative manner. And by creative, I mean optimal cost, quality, and function. Yes, engineering is a hard science, but it also requires artistic skill. I love it.

Other than our free all-you-can-drink coffee source, I brag about the people I work with. I work with engineers who have done some amazing stuff. I get to learn from these people.

Suzie: If you encounter an obstacle at your job, how do you overcome it?

Felicia: I look at accomplishments day by day. Sometimes hour by hour! But what helps for me is to break things down into steps. It’s a lot less intimidating that way, and easier to manage.

Suzie: After a BS and MS in engineering, why did you decide to get your PhD in Performance Psychology?

Felicia: What is Performance Psychology, you ask? In a high-level nutshell, it is the study of human performance from a psychological perspective, but is highly interconnected with a biological, and physiological perspective. Fundamentally, I’m working towards a degree in philosophy with respect to how humans perform within the specified environmental boundaries. With that said, I know the attrition rate for women in engineering is dismal. I know that research has shown with my second child, my probability of leaving the profession is greater than 200% [compared to the average professional women]. Yet, throughout all the obstacles, there are women who have persisted within the technical profession to careers greater than 25 years. I want to know what it is about those women that has allowed them to persist through such terrible odds. I believe this is a psychological human performance question that can contribute to the greater good of retaining and maintaining women in the engineering profession.

Suzie: Very interesting. Has your research so far lead you to any insights about women in engineering?

Felicia: TON! Mostly, I’ve had many validating epiphanies which has brought me to tears about my experience as a woman in engineering. For example, I had not really ever defined my engineering identity. Meaning, I did not identify as an engineer. I whole heartedly attribute this to not knowing what a 30+ year old, engineering mother of two, working in the aero industry in Phoenix, AZ was supposed to look or act like. Turns out, the role models get scarcer the more established I become in my career!

Suzie: Are there things companies can do to retain females in engineering?

Felicia: I think there are a ton of things companies can do, but I whole heartedly believe an individual has the most control over their career journey! I believe two things: 1. It’s all in your mindset 2. You are in control of building your competency, making your own decisions, and establishing your support group.

Suzie: Speaking of support groups, I know you started a Facebook Group called “Engineering Working Mom.” Could you tell me a little more about this group?

Felicia: In 2014 I had my first daughter. I had just accepted a new job [while on maternity leave] because I was “leaning in”. But as a new engineering mom, I had no idea how to do this work-life balance. I wanted to do my best at both roles – I just knew it was possible to be a good mom and a stellar engineer at the same time. I knew this was not a dichotomy! Despite what others told me, unsolicited by the way, I just knew it was not an either/or! [That year], at the national Society of Women Engineers conference, I discovered a few other engineering moms [who] were also having the same struggles as me!

A 15-minute Q&A session wasn’t going to answer all my questions on how to be good at both roles for the rest of my life, so I created a private Facebook group for us to collaborate. It started out with about 14 members, but it has grown to be a group of 2000+ international engineering working moms! I’ve made my support group, who helps me build my competency in parenting and engineering, and this allows me to make my own decisions about my career journey. I love my engineering moms. I’ve been fortunate to lead this group with stellar admins whose perspectives and wisdom I value more than anything money can buy.

Suzie: Sounds like a great support group. On one last note, what advice would you give a student pursuing a STEM career?

Felicia: Read Carol Dweck’s book about Mindset! Acknowledge your engineering identity and let that guide your career!

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