Degree from Michigan: A.B in Environmental Studies and Political Science
Current location: Sterling Heights, MI
Year graduated: 2012
Student Organization Involvement: Alpha Phi Alumni Chair & Initiation Chair, K-Grams Greek Relations Director, PitE Club member, PitE Peer Advisor, Athletic Tutor, Graham Institute of Sustainability Research Assistant, Ross Business School Research Assistant
Other jobs held or graduate programs attended since graduation: Master of Science in Leather Technology at The University of Northampton
KT: I work in the Research and Development Department of Eagle Ottawa, an automotive leather company owned by Lear Corporation. My job is to manage the automotive programs and build patterns of quilted, perforated, and laminated samples for seat inserts. We do this from a design perspective, as well as for technical testing, i.e. ensuring that we meet specifications, and for innovation-type opportunities.
In the automotive industry, we are known as a Tier 1 or Tier 2 supplier to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Those include GM, Ford, Honda, BMW, etc. Any car company is our main customer.
KC: How do you feel your education and extracurricular activities at Michigan have influenced your career path?
KT: In college, I was a research assistant for the Graham Institute for Sustainability; a few students and professors were working to build an integrated sustainability plan for the university. That exposed me to the application of sustainability in a business sense. I also had an opportunity to work in the Ross Business School with a professor who was doing research on wind energy applications. He needed someone to research policies on wind energy applications in the US. It was really intense work with massive amounts of reading, but it gave me a well-rounded perspective of how my degree could be applied not only to the business world, but also in government. After I did that job, I was really dedicated to targeting my degree towards a business application.
My first job at Eagle Ottawa was as an environmental specialist. They needed someone to build a sustainable leather product profile and understand the sustainable systems of leather. It was perfect! I could apply my LSA degree in a way that I don’t believe sustainability had been applied before. That really excited me!
KC: How did you find the environmental specialist job at Eagle Ottawa?
KT: I actually got this job through tutoring! After graduation, I tutored calculus and gave my resume to a parent who worked at Eagle Ottawa (he was a Vice President at the time). I was just showing him my resume to demonstrate that I was qualified to tutor, but 6 months later I had a job at the company. I’m still very close with the guy who helped me get hired. A lot of people say that I just got lucky, but I disagree. If you take the initiative to engage in new experiences and show your resume to as many people as you can, you never know who you’ll find.
KC: It sounds like there are pretty heavy engineering and design components to your job. How did you gain those skills outside of your LSA degree?
KT: I started off in engineering at U of M, so I definitely had a leg up there. However I did make an effort to take classes in LSA that built critical thinking skills. Taking multidisciplinary classes taught me how to negotiate different perspectives (like in my job now, how I have to look at the chemical component vs. the sustainable component vs. the design component). Plus, my senior capstone course at U of M was on sustainable energy systems. That class really helped me to understand how to look at a problem efficiently and in a way that would be both marketable and environmentally friendly.
Taking the core classes like Statistics really solidified my ability to view trends. On the engineering side of my job, I’m not crunching the numbers, but I have to know how to read and understand the numbers.
KC: What do you believe is the value of a liberal arts degree?
KT: I think a lot of LSA students are very good at being a “translator.” We can read a lot of information (technical or not), filter it, and make a very concise presentation. That’s a VERY good skill to have. LSA doesn’t tell you that they are teaching you this way of thinking, it’s just part of the classes.
My Master’s degree helped me with the technical component of leather. But all of my skillsets of working with a cross-functional team, looking at technical data, and collaborating with designers – those are 100% grounded in what LSA taught me. LSA students are trained to respect literature, the sciences, and the arts. To me, that well-roundedness is the beautiful part of the degree. LSA forces us through our education to learn to be a linear thinker when you need to be, but also how to be a holistic, “big picture” thinker. That is a skill that I don’t believe is taught in any other school, and I think it’s overlooked.
Finally, I believe that LSA teaches how to be inclusive and respectful, as well as how to be a continuous learner of all things. I’ve noticed that I’m very good at this, and my LSA alum friends are the same way; we enjoy listening to the designers as much as we enjoy listening to the scientists.
I want LSA students to feel confidently in a technical world because we are technical people. We are taught to be analytical, just in a different application. On the manufacturing and engineering side, I think it would be easy for LSA students to feel as though they don’t belong. That’s one thing that I would love LSA students to know: you can have a Political Science degree and still walk into a lab or an engineering firm or any other technical job, because your skills do apply there.
KC: What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job?
KT: My favorite thing is that I truly believe that I have the best team in the world. I work with a chemical engineer from U of M, and together we manage a team of technicians that build the samples. Working on a team in a work environment is incredible; there’s something about people coming together for a shared goal that is so rewarding to me. My favorite part is finding people that you enjoy working with who have the same mission.
My least favorite aspect is the stress… manufacturing is a constant stress that I wasn’t taught in school. There are orders always coming in and orders always going out. Michigan alums are essentially all overachievers, so it’s hard to have multiple failures and learn to deal with that. It gets better though, you learn tips and tricks with experience.
KC: Are there any companies that are similar to Eagle Ottawa that students could look into?
KT: Eagle Ottawa has competitors from a leather side and from a seating side. Lear Corporation is the parent company to Eagle Ottawa. Competitors of Lear are Magna, Tachi-S, and TS Tech. From an Eagle Ottawa perspective (just leather), competitors include Bader (German leather company), Bridge of Weir (smaller), and Garden State (GST).
KC: If you could give advice to current students hoping to follow in a similar career path, what would you say?
KT: 1. Take advantage of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a very underutilized tool for young people. I didn’t really start using it until I was already working. It can help you frame your elevator speech and map out your evolving resume.
2. Find companies that you admire and then find jobs that you might want to do within them. I have an environmental degree, and I never would have found this job by looking at environmental jobs on websites like Indeed or Monster. You will find a lot more job opportunities by going to company websites directly.
3. Create your “iStory.” Michigan’s Career Center taught me how to take my job at say, the music store where I sold instruments in high school just to make money, and frame it as an experience that gave me customer service skills. I had always just thought of those things as ways for me to try to make money as a kid, and I didn’t think they were important. But I was learning and gaining skills there that have helped me get to where I am today. I don’t care if you’re washing dishes or cutting grass, all of those experiences have given you skills that have shaped you and led you down your current path. Those should all be incorporated into your story.
4. I would recommend that for every experience or class that you have, write down a skill you learned, what you liked about it, and what you didn’t like about it. I did this, and it helped me to create my story. In every interview they ask you what’s your biggest fault; if you start to list out your skillset and things you know you love and thing you hate, then you have all of that information right in front of you.
ANYONE is welcome to connect with me if they want to just talk or have resumes reviewed, have cover letters read, etc.