The Power Women of the Wire Harness Industry
Rebecca Schenk is a Power Woman at Allison Transmission, Inc. in Indianapolis, Indiana currently working in Product Engineering. She has worked at Allison Transmission for about 20 years in various positions including Product/Project Engineering, Test Engineering, and Application Engineering. In Product Engineering, she spent most of her time in the Electronic Components Hardware Group where she worked with suppliers on designing, testing, and releasing products. As an Application Engineer, she worked at the other end of the spectrum with the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to design Allison Transmission products into their vehicles and applications. While in Test Engineering, she was responsible for transmission hardware testing. She was also involved in the calibrations group during her application years and warranty and service activities during her early product engineering years. Rebecca is definitely a woman who knows her transmission components from design through implementation and service.
Rebecca was not exposed to textbook engineering during her middle school classes as there were no STEM programs available. Attending a private Catholic high school, she graduated 3rd in her class and enjoyed traditional math classes such as Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus. The school had no STEM-specific programs in which she was able to participate. However and while uneducated collegiately, Rebecca’s parents exposed her to many projects at a young age. Her father, an automotive and marine mechanic, involved her and her brother in designing and building a go-kart. She also was exposed to work on her grandfather’s farm and helped work on building houses, fixing cars, doing woodworking projects, and building concession booths, among other projects. As a homemaker and administrative assistant, her mother also included Rebecca in activities like cross-stitching, cake decorating, painting, and gardening. While she may not have realized it at the time, she developed a strong understanding of how objects fit together and a keen mechanical aptitude.
Because of their mathematical interest and applied mechanical knowledge, both Rebecca and her brother chose to pursue mechanical engineering. She attended the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) in the first class that allowed female participation for full-time courses. Previously, RHIT was an all-male school though there were females in attendance some prior years for part-time studies. In fact, one of Rebecca’s most interesting memories includes her first day of Freshmen studies when there was national media attention covering the first day for females (as full-time students). During that year at RHIT, there was a 13-1 male to female ratio at the school. She recalls having only 1-2 females in her classes.
When I asked her how she felt about being so outnumbered by the boys in her classes, she added that she actually felt welcomed and enjoyed the male attention. She believes that the guys were happy to have females around campus. She thinks that the professors were also glad to have the males cleaned-up for class now due to the female presence. Because the school was previously all-male, there was more mention of the females at the school rather than the females in engineering.
In terms of obstacles during college, Rebecca mentioned that there was a lot of time spent creating female organizations on campus. During her Freshmen year, she and some other girls joined the male tennis team because there was no female team. Fortunately, the situation was rectified during her Sophomore year when a female tennis team was initiated.
In the workforce, Rebecca believes that there were and are many opportunities for advancement. She admits that it is tough to gauge whether she received the same respect as her male counterparts. Her personal work ethic required her to put forth extra effort to gain respect, though she may have also been criticized for that additional time spent in some areas. She believes that one needs to realize her own accomplishments and be one’s own cheerleader to gain the respect of others.
She encourages other females to pursue engineering in college as it is a versatile degree. She recommends that they take advanced math and science classes in middle and high school and also that they become involved in groups and activities that expose youth to engineering. She also advises that students really learn the material as they will build on all of the basic concepts during their lifetime rather than just learning enough to pass the tests.
In the past, Rebecca acted as a mentor for summer interns at Allison Transmission. She also led workshops at a career conference entitled ‘Curiosity, Confidence, Challenge!’ at a local school to promote math, science, and technology for 6th, 7th, & 8th grade females. She has also participated in the Women & Hi Tech organization which is focused on promoting equal inclusion in STEM professions by providing a support system and networking opportunities for female professionals and girls seeking out STEM careers.
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your story and Allison Transmission, Inc., for your support of females in engineering.