I am really excited to have Christie Holmes on the blog today – she is another fellow WPI alumna who always seemed like super woman. She was thoroughly interested in her classes at school, studying hard to learn as much as she could while staying very involved on campus (we even played a season of Rugby together!). Since graduating collage, she has maintained super woman status and is now a full time engineer, student pursuing her Masters, and mother. I can assure you, she is doing a wonderful job at all of these but I’ll let her tell us more about how she became an engineer and also how she manages an adorable son while maintaining her professional career. Without further ado, here’s Christie…
When I was in 7th grade, I did my first ever Science Fair Project on Newton’s Three Laws of motion; you could say I have been hooked on science and engineering ever since. In high school, I continued my love for science by taking every course my school had to offer. I also discovered my second passion while in high school; travel. In my junior year, my Spanish 4 class traveled to Spain for 10 days. It was an amazing trip and I couldn’t wait to plan my next adventure. That summer, I qualified to play field hockey in Europe and traveled through England and Holland for a month while playing. The following year I had to select colleges, and I was immediately drawn to WPI, not only because it was my Dad’s alma mater, but also because I loved the idea of being able to travel while pursuing my love for science.
I started as a Biochemistry major, but quickly changed to Chemical Engineering halfway through my freshman year. I completed one of my projects required for graduation while living in beautiful Venice, Italy. In 2006, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to work in a rotational program for a large chemical manufacturing company. I moved to South Carolina immediately after graduation and began working in a chemical plant. Moving that far from home was a total culture shock (what do you mean I can’t buy groceries until after 1pm on Sunday???), but I really enjoyed learning about new places. Shortly after I started working for the company, I became very interested in continuous improvement, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. I attended several training courses in Tennessee, Chicago, and Italy and within a year I was promoted to a Global Improvement Engineer, which was a role that fulfilled every wish I had when graduating from WPI. I was doing engineering, while traveling, and meeting new people all the time. I spent many weeks in Germany, Brussels, Italy, Spain, Austria, New York, Chicago, West Virginia, and South Carolina.
During my visits to these sites, I was tasked with training the local plant employees on basic lean manufacturing principles, then I would work as a project facilitator to attack some of their more pressing issues such as waste minimization, cycle time reduction, increased plant capacity, and controlled inventory levels. These projects were often a month or so in length, and it allowed me plenty of time for leisure travel while I was working in these beautiful places. I feel very fortunate that I am able to say I have been horseback riding in the Alps and had the opportunity to spend weekends trolling Milan for the latest fashions. It was a wonderful experience and one that I am so glad I was able to do before my responsibilities to my family became too strong.
After two years of this amazing lifestyle, my long term boyfriend (also a Chemical Engineer and WPI graduate) and I got married and decided to start a family. I took a job with a local pharmaceutical manufacturing company (in Rhode Island, where we are both from) working as a capital project and new product engineer.
To date, my greatest achievement has been the birth of our son Oliver in 2010. I never really understood how large an impact such a tiny person can make on your life, and I would be lying if I said I was totally prepared for all the changes that came as a result of his arrival. I had a (very) short maternity leave of 6 weeks. At that point my company graciously allowed me to come back to work part time, thirty hours a week. In six short weeks, I went from being the person that worked 80 hours a week, the woman that came to work while in labor to tie up loose ends before she was out for a couple of weeks, the woman that often opened and closed the building each day, to the woman that didn’t want to work anymore. It was a long transition, but slowly I found myself feeling more and more comfortable at work. I looked forward to being able to drink an entire cup of coffee while it was still hot and was thankful for the adult conversations.
When Oliver was 9 months old, I came back to work full-time and it was another huge adjustment. I found myself spending a lot of time worrying about my schedule, getting home to him, and reaching a balance in my work and home life. One thing that has helped me find great peace is that to me, balance doesn’t mean you do all things equally always, it means that you are able to devote your time where and when it is needed. When work is crazy, I spend more time there and ask my husband to help more at home. When Oliver is sick or going through a transition, I devote more of my time to him and work from home when possible. By no means is my life very Zen, but I strive for balance between work, home and friends; some weeks it is more of a struggle than others. I also feel like I am setting a strong example for him about what it means to be a professional and a parent at the same time.
Being an Engineer and a Mom is awesome! I love teaching Oliver about science. He may be the only three year old that knows when the bath water goes down it makes a vortex, or that gravity makes his ball fall out of the sky when he throws it up. Our home is filled with blocks and puzzles and we spend lots of time talking about space and robots and dinosaurs; in fact he recently asked if our next vacation could be to the asteroid belt! It makes me so happy to see how eager he is to learn and I am proud that I can answer so many of his questions. I love that he shares my deep curiosity for how things work and always tries to figure out “what da pwowbem is” if one of his toys isn’t functioning the way it should. Deep down I know that he is an engineer in the making and by setting the base for strong problem solving skills and instilling a desire to answer the question “why” all the time we are hopefully culturing a strong leader.
Today, I am still working full-time at the same company, but I am now a Senior Process Engineer overseeing everything from new product introductions to process optimization projects. I also went back to school to earn my MS in Operations Design and Leadership (from WPI) and anticipate graduating in May 2015. Although my priorities have shifted and my next trip is scheduled to Disney instead of some exotic locale, I am honored to be on the biggest journey of my life - motherhood.