BABE #59: AUDREY KEENE,
Life Cycle Engineer @ GE Aviation
Audrey is a complete and total boss. With a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering, she currently works as a Life Cycle Engineer at GE on their GEnx Engine Program in Cincinnati, Ohio, and somehow makes time for her side hustle as a certified yoga instructor. It's safe to say she's a hustlin' babe who is doing some really incredible things, and the BWH community is totally inspired by her! (Read more about Audrey here.)
Hometown: Hilton, NY
Current city: Cincinnati, OH
Alma mater: Clarkson University (BS), University of Cincinatti (MS)
Degree: Mechanical Engineering
Hustle: Life Cycle Engineer at GE Aviation
Babe you admire and why?
My mom. She has shown me that there is great value in challenging yourself to learn new things.
How do you spend your free time?
Practicing/teaching yoga, reading (typically non-fiction) and planning my next adventure.
Favorite app, website or blog?
I spend more time on Instagram than I’d like to admit.
Must-have item in your purse?
Bobby pins and Burt’s Bee’s chapstick
Go-to coffee order?
Go-to adult beverage?
Kentucky Mule (bourbon, ginger beer and lime juice!)
Favorite beauty item?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
My mom’s butternut squash risotto
Favorite social media account to follow?
@the_southern_yogi // she's also a Babe!
Biggest pet peeve?
Repetitive noises. To the pen clickers and foot tappers of the world: I hear you. And you drive me nuts!
Tell us about your hustle:
I am currently an engineer at GE Aviation, one of the world's leading aircraft engine suppliers. I work on the GEnx engine program, which is a high bypass turbofan jet engine that powers the Boeing 747-8 and 787 aircrafts. As a life cycle engineer on the GEnx High Pressure Compressor, I am responsible for the largest and most expensive piece of hardware in the rotor. I analyze non-conforming hardware (i.e. the part geometry or processing deviates from the engineering drawing requirements) to make sure that it meets design intent for form, fit and function. I work very closely with the manufacturing team to identify and implement updates to the hardware definition that make the parts easier to make and inspect. I also work on design changes and repairs based on the condition of hardware that has already accumulated flight hours.
What does your typical workday look like?
First, I have a cup of coffee while reading through my email and catching up on anything that happened overnight. I then make a to-do list of all the things I need to get done, ranking them based on priority. I spend most of my day working through my to-do list which usually includes some sort of 2D analysis, documenting results, writing technical substantiation and general ‘detective’ work to gather all the necessary information to put together a cohesive story for my various projects. Most of my meetings are via teleconference because I work with a global team. I also try to take a solid break during the day to get away from my desk and recharge (usually rock climbing at the gym by my office or taking a walk outside with a friend). I think stepping away allows me to be more productive because I return fresh and focused.
What internships/professional experience brought you to where you are now?
When I was a junior in high school, I had no clue what I wanted to do when I grew up. I always joked that I wanted to be a circus performer, but two knee surgeries from gymnastics injuries did not really lend itself to being a professional acrobat. My guidance counselor had me take an online personality test to see what professions matched my interests, and the top result by a long shot was for “aeronautical engineer”. In college, getting professional experience as an intern while I was still an undergraduate validated that going into engineering was a good fit for me. My first internship was with GE Transportation where I took the summer and fall semester off from school to work in a hands-on role, developing the test procedure for a prototype to reduce emissions from a diesel locomotive engine. The following summer, I moved to GE Energy (which has since been restructured to be the Power and Water headquarters) as a gas turbine controls intern. I spent all day writing code to post-process data which ended up being a really helpful skill when working on my Master’s degree.
What was the interview and application process like for your job?
I applied to the GE Aviation EEDP (Edison Engineering Development Program) internally because I was already working for another GE business at the time. It was very simple - I just filled out a workflow and attached my resume and transcript. The interview was a completely different story. The thought of interviewing used to make my stomach churn, voice quake, and palms sweaty. To get myself comfortable with answering questions in the days leading up to the on-site interview, I videotaped myself answering basic job questions on my laptop and watched them back. I was horrified at how much I fidgeted, used the word “um” or glanced all over the place. So I did it again. And again. And again. Eventually, I could rattle off answers without sounding over-rehearsed or pausing with deer-in-headlight eyes. I honestly do not think I would have received an offer if I did not put myself through this process. The on-site interview was a five-hour event where a group of four candidates ping-ponged around to different interviewers after giving a 5-minute intro presentation. The last thing was a proprietary group activity (that may have involved Legos) where I had to work with the other candidates to solve a problem while being observed by the interviewers. Needless to say, I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it! I do remember walking away feeling like I had shown up as my best self that day. Which meant that regardless of whether I got the job offer, I knew I would have no regrets.
What was your academic experience like?
I’ll be the first to admit that I breezed through high school with straight A’s - but never learned how to study. I thought that studying was glancing over your notes 5 minutes before the test. College was a shock to my system, as things didn’t click immediately like they had before. I realized pretty quickly that I had to teach myself to study if I was going to make it. I found that going to office hours with the professors or TAs was incredibly helpful to get up to speed on topics that I had trouble grasping. There were times that I questioned whether I was ‘smart’ enough to be engineer or was worried that I lacked a certain ‘special sauce’ because I grew up playing with Barbies and not K'nex. It took years to overcome this perception and realize that I am valuable because I offer a different approach to problems than someone who grew up tinkering on cars or building model airplanes.
Favorite thing about your job?
At the end of the day, I stay motivated because I know that the hardware I work on will be in an engine, powering an aircraft that will fly millions of people around the world. Sometimes I just have to sit back and acknowledge the collective genius that transpires on a day-to-day basis to make this kind of technology possible. I feel inspired by the work I do… and that’s my favorite thing about my job.
I am located at the company headquarters in Ohio and the hardware I work on is made and assembled into engines in North Carolina, so it can be frustrating to have to interpret photos or a written description instead of being able to walk over and see something with my own eyes.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
That engineers are a bunch of socially awkward, poorly dressed nerds!
How would you say your gender has affected your professional experience?
I have always been very aware that I work in a male-dominated field. I think it has made me work harder to prove myself. I remember being told by my male classmates in college that I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a job because I am a woman and companies want diversity. This thinking is incredibly depreciating because it strips me of all of my accomplishments and insinuates that I am not qualified. I had to wonder on that first day when I walked into the office… do my coworkers think that I don’t really belong here?
What would you say the gender ratio is in your office? Your industry in general? Do you see it evolving? Tell us about GE's #balancetheequation initiative!
Men outnumber women in engineering 5:1 and I work with mostly men. It wasn’t until I had an opportunity to mentor a newly hired female engineer that I realized that I had been missing out on an entire perspective by not getting to work directly with other women. GE launched an effort this year to #balancetheequation by striving to equalize the gender ratio in technical roles by 2020. This is setting a great example that change is necessary and it is not going to happen passively. As more women fill these highly technical roles, the perspective needs to change as well. The new hire female engineer must no longer start on her first day with presumed un-qualification while her male counterpart is assumed qualified. Women and men are inherently different AND equally valuable. It’s time to acknowledge that.
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I volunteer at ChangingGears which is an organization that repairs vehicles for clients that are in poverty. Car maintenance is something that I’ve been uncomfortable with because I am nervous about breaking something. Volunteering with ChangingGears allows me to work side by side with experienced mechanics and learn the ropes while fixing cars that are going to help break the cycle of poverty. I think that volunteering doesn’t have to be just about giving your time.. it can be something that enriches your life too!
What advice would you give to a Babe who is trying to break into your industry?
Definitely get involved in undergraduate research or a summer internship. Getting the experience not only makes you an qualified candidate for a full-time gig, it gives you the opportunity to start to figure out what you actually like doing.
What does success look like to you?
Success is a moving target. There will never be one moment when I say “okay, I made it” because I will always be looking for the next challenge. That said, along the way I want to make meaningful contributions to the development and advancement of technology that positively influences the lives of others.
How do you find a work-life balance?
I run my own race. That means not trying to be the person who comes into the office first, the person who stays the latest, or the person who always answers their work email any time of the day or night. I do what is necessary to get the job done right... regardless of what other people are doing (or look like they are doing).
What helps you wind down / how do you manage stress?
I started practicing yoga regularly in 2014 in an effort to recover from piriformis syndrome which I developed in large part from spending long hours sitting at a desk. At the time, I was in an unhealthy state both physically and mentally. I couldn’t do a lot of my favorite activities because I was in so much pain. Practicing yoga eventually relieved the tension near my sciatic nerve so I finally felt like myself again. I also learned how helpful it is to focus on my breathing to calm down, on and off my mat. These experiences inspired me to become a certified yoga teacher and I continue to practice and teach yoga regularly, allowing me the time to focus on my needs and let go of some unnecessary pressure that I sometimes put on myself.
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