We recently received a surprise message from a Women in Engineering (WIE) alumna, Margaret O’Neil, who attended one of our first years of this program. In her message, she recalled coming to the program at a young age and how it solidified her decision to become an automotive engineer. We just had to know more about her career and life; here is more of her story.
Question: Where are you from? How far did you have to travel to attend WIE?
Answer: At the time I traveled from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (which is near Detroit) to attend the camp.
Q: You said in your email that WIE solidified your decision to pursue automotive engineering. What do you remember from that week?
A: I remember being excited about being able to test and feel materials, the hands-on aspects to working with things and beginning to understand how they work—Playing around with the pieces and learning as I went.
I always liked playing around and learning how things worked, and I was good at it. Growing up, I was the youngest of seven kids, with my older siblings mostly moved out of the house. So if things broke or didn’t work in the house, I ended up being the one to fix it. Not sure how I figured it out, but I even fixed the lawn mower once. I attribute my path to the WIE program, as it was my real first chance to try engineering out.
Q: What about automotive engineering hooked you? What do you love most about your field?
A: When I first went to Marquette University [in Milwaukee, WI], it was to become biomedical engineer— I wanted to work with ergonomics. I wasn’t good at 3D side of it, but electronics I understood, like how things moved and flowed.
For example: when looking at a car, I explained it just like a big body. Being able to see electrons and how they move and systems go together was the best thing about going into automotive.
Q: Did you take any special classes or steps in high school to prepare?
A: I did, I took five semesters of biology, chemistry class, and all the math I could, except for calculus (not sure why!). I remember I didn’t need that many credits my senior year and had a job doing cancer research at Marygrove College for a few hours a day.
I also worked at a gas station pumping gas and had a job parking cars. Whatever there was to do with cars, I guess I was there.
Q: Do you have any role models or mentors?
A: I struggle to find one in my life, but perhaps my mother. She ran the household while my father worked at Ford Motor Company and she kept us all going. Also my brother, as he always had a car in the driveway and was rebuilding them and let me watch. When I graduated, only 4 out of 186 girls in my high school class were planning to go into engineering. Now, I do a lot of speaking about females and non traditional careers and encouraging them into automotive in career tech and other schools.
Q: What surprised you the most about about your field and career over the years?
A: I rolled well with the technology changes over the years, and even started my own computer company building hardware, software and networks. I basically design projects and others execute them. I also have completed lots of training over the years.
Q: Any other words of wisdom you want shared with future engineers?
A: Don’t go into something just for money, or prestige: really see yourself doing it for 50 years. If you have fun when working, it won’t seem like a job. That’s why I haven’t retired!