I was absolutely fascinated by Lauren’s nomination, and I’m excited to introduce you to this amazing woman. Lauren Lee is a Product Manager at Shield Casework where she oversees the products Shield is producing from beginning to end. When I set out to interview her, I had some questions lined up, but as we talked, my questions morphed into something a little different. I met someone interesting with amazing stories to tell. I learned that Lauren is a supportive and understanding colleague who reaches for perfection in all aspects of life, and who most certainly understands the value in having a good time while you’re doing it.
How did you get started in engineering, specifically industrial design? Was there a particular class or moment that led you down the industrial design path? “I had a few really great teachers in junior high and high school who encouraged me in both math and science. Learning wasn’t always fun, but I would feel accomplished as I gained knowledge. I don’t think teachers realize just how much of an impact they have on their students when they are encouraging and keep learning interesting. The industrial design came later for me. I went to the University of Kansas (KU), where initially, I was enrolled as a mechanical engineer. I’ve also always enjoyed art and design, since my parents are both artists, so I took a hand-drafting course in the KU art department. I owe the professor there credit for introducing me to industrial design. I was doing well in her class and she asked me if it was something I had ever considered. She thought I might like and excel at it. I did some research and really liked that it was a little bit engineering, a little bit design, and a little bit art. It was a very well-rounded program so I switched over to industrial design with a concentration in engineering.
Another one of the things that got me excited about engineering and design was Walt Disney’s Imagineering Division. They’re the people who get to figure out rides and exhibits. At one point, I was reading a lot of their books and doing research into that field. I happened across a competition they have, the Imaginations Design Competition, and I had a classmate at the time who was also interested in ride design and theme parks. We teamed up and started to think about what would allow us to make a well-rounded project. At that point, we brought in another classmate who was a sculptor, as well as a girl who was a composer so we could establish the whole mood for the ride. This was a fairly open-ended competition – you could design a product for the parks or a ride, a dining experience, you name it. We chose to create a ride and we made it into the finals. They flew us out to California where we got to meet the other teams comprised of talented students from around the world. We worked with Disney’s engineers and research and development specialists to refine our project before presenting to a panel of judges at the end of the week. I learned so much in a short time. I definitely enjoyed it and it is an experience that I will never forget. It was a lot of work on top of school, but it was worth it. I’d recommend entering this competition to the students reading this. Seriously, do it!”
How long have you been using SOLIDWORKS? “Let’s see. I started in college so since 2005. I have been very pro-SOLIDWORKS. We’ve had the opportunity to re-evaluate what software we want to use at Shield Casework and with SOLIDWORKS, our models are built the same way we want them built out on the production floor. It makes our process a lot more streamlined. We call it digital fabrication. Our goal is to catch most of the issues we’re going to have before it’s released to production.”
It seems to me you’re always participating in some sort of extracurricular activity. Tell me a little bit more about the Product Design for the New Millennium course your were involved with. “The product design for the new millennium course is a talent identification course run by Duke University. They allow students in junior high to take the SAT at a very young age. Those who score exceptionally high can be involved in this program where they can come into the University – in this case it was KU – where they are housed in dorms and take a course. Our students were interested in product design. We taught them how to brainstorm and sketch. They did some 3D modeling in the computer lab and the shop was made available to them to build prototypes. The culmination of the class was when the students presented a product they designed. We tried to give them a taste of the design process from beginning to end. One project I remember in particular was a laser-shooting scarecrow – definitely middle-schoolers! It was a lot of fun. They had a very unique perspective.”
How about today? Tell me a little bit about your Lean-in Circle. “The premise is that women in leadership roles in business should support other women. It’s a way to learn from each other and to learn together. Instead of everybody competing for the top spot, you’re all trying to grow and improve together. For some of our ladies, this means advancing on a management track; for others, it means becoming more skilled and moving up a technical track. We have two different types of meetings. First, there are educational meetings, where we learn about a new skill or how to do something; for example, negotiating or time management. And second, we have experience meetings. These are story-telling meetings where you can give hypothetical situations and learn how others might react. We have just under 20 people, but it’s very much a rotating cast. I like to surround myself with people who are strong and awesome – I think it works to everyone’s advantage.”
Are you the same way at home with many projects in the works? What do you do for fun? “Yes! I just enjoy doing things! I like experiences for sure. I am a traveler. I love to travel! I’ve been to Egypt and Brazil and Galapagos and New Zealand. I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica – I don’t like to be cold! I love going places and experiencing new things! I try to take one super-cool trip per year. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, but this year’s adventure was a little different. I had a little girl! That was my big adventure. I have a five-month old now. Her name is Samantha and I love her to death. A lot of my free time has gone to that. I also decorate cakes with my husband and my sister helps sometimes too. I actually started this with my sister because she was thinking about pursing culinary arts. Since then, she has also gone into industrial design, but at that time we took an amateur cake decorating course together because I thought it would be fun. We started out with special occasion cakes and then moved up to wedding cakes. We don’t do a ton of them. It’s not a job. It’s just a hobby that I can get paid for sometimes. I can basically use whatever profit to buy myself some cool new tools and have more to work with the next time around. It combines my three favorite things: design, engineering, and dessert!”
Let’s talk about the University of California San Diego head wall project you worked on. Why was this project so challenging in particular?“The headwalls for UCSD were designed by Cannon Design to be both functional and beautiful. Their design includes a 4-degree angle off the wall, a 3-degree angle off the ceiling, a 10-degree return to the wall and a cove for the bed with several more angles and some tight radii. It is the first 100% solid surface headwall of its kind and it possessed a handful of opportunities to utilize some of our unique fabrication techniques. What happens when you try and do that in a laminate or a more traditional material is that it wants to walk uphill. If you imagine those angles being cut on a piece they end up having to walk upwards if you were to flatten it out. Because we had solid surface, we could make the pieces and seam them together to create this bed nook that a lot of other materials are struggling to do. It was nice – we were able to give them what they designed when a lot of other people were telling them how hard it was going to be or how they were going to have to change it. Throughout this and other projects, we’re continuously learning how to work with the material better. New tricks and such.”
Do you find being a woman in this male dominated profession challenging? Was there a specific instance of this? “I’ve always known the challenge of working as a female in a male-dominated profession was a reality. I try not to let it get to me, but I do notice. For instance, at career fairs, people will tend to want to talk to the male at the career fair. Or at the hardware store with my husband who’s a computer programmer. The sales people are always wanting to talk to him and he’s just looking to me and all the while I’m just trying to get out of there with some #10 sheet metal screws! Sure, I’ve had situations like that. I will say that everyone I work with now has been awesome and in our circle you wouldn’t ever know that this is a thing.”
What advice do you have for young girls who want to pursue engineering? Has your answer changed at all with the recent addition of your daughter to the family? “My husband and I have talked about this a lot recently with the birth of our daughter. I think a lot of it is society and subtle differences in how people talk to young girls and boys. I feel like young girls are told ‘you ARE smart, you ARE smart’, whereas young boys are more encouraged in a lot of cases to be problem solvers and experiment. If they fail, it’s not treated like a big deal. When you tell a young girl ‘you ARE smart, you ARE smart’ and then they begin to struggle, they begin to wonder ‘am I not smart anymore?’ and ‘why is this hard now’? Struggling is not a problem, it’s just a part of any learning experience. That’s what development is. I was lucky in that my parents always encouraged me to be a problem solver.”
Not only did I get a chance to speak with Lauren, but I also spoke with a few of her colleagues. It’s true what they say, the biggest measure of success is the impression you make on those around you.
“Lauren is never afraid of a challenge, and she is always willing to help wherever needed. She contributes to the progressive culture of this startup company by creating a fun yet productive work environment. She is an amazing team player whose dedicated, deadline-driven work has played a significant role in the company’s success. She has proven herself an integral member of the team, as well as an incredibly valuable leader both at Shield and in the larger engineering community.” ~ Kelsie Schrader, colleague
“You can rely on [Lauren] to think out everything. She is going to holistically attack each and every problem and consider everything. As her direct report, I really appreciate this. I know I can ask her for help or advice and she will never give me a generic answer. She’s going to really consider what I’m asking and give me the best possible solution. I know she’s going to contemplate not only the question I asked her directly, but she’s also going to consider and offer other solutions by making sure she understands what I meant to ask. I see her as this strong, not just a strong woman, but as this strong person who is getting a lot done and pursuing cool things, regardless of gender.” ~ Claire Willis, colleague
Have someone in mind? You can nominate the next recipient for the SOLIDWORKS Women in Engineering Program, honoring the outstanding achievements that women are accomplishing day to day in the engineering community. Find out more information or get started today!