Alumni Outlook Magazine

Cover Story

Kristin Meliska ’02, accepted an Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award in 2008. She works for Greenheck Fan Corp. of Schofield.
Kari Goulet Berthiaume BS ’02, MS ’09, checked a lean manufacturing chart at her Andersen Corp. office in Menomonie.
Careers in math and science traditionally have been considered male-dominated. Engineering is a prime example, with men earning about 83 percent of the undergraduate degrees in the U.S. in 2006-2007.
However, three recent female engineering graduates from the University of Wisconsin-Stout who have excelled in their fields are reminders that gender-based obstacles, whether real or perceived, need not prevent women from seeking a degree or succeeding in the workplace in a career typically populated by men.
Kristin Kasbaum Meliska ’02 has come a long way since her first UW-Stout engineering class, which consisted of herself and 32 male engineer hopefuls. After telling her mother about the makeup of the class, Meliska received the same advice she often was given.
“She always told me to be confident and keep my eyes on the goal, no matter how far away it may seem,” said Meliska, who graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in manufacturing engineering.
Meliska has been a full-time manufacturing engineer with Greenheck Fan Corp. in Schofield, since completing her cooperative education program with the company eight years ago. Greenheck is known worldwide as the leading supplier of air movement and control equipment, such as fans and kitchen ventilation hoods.
Greenheck’s products are used in many types of commercial, institutional and industrial buildings.
Meliska is part of a team responsible for promoting, training and coaching employees on lean manufacturing techniques, which aim to increase efficiency while decreasing waste. The techniques are modeled after those used in the Toyota Production System, which Meliska studied in a master’s course at UW-Stout.
In 2008 Meliska won an Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award for her lean efforts. Her GPS, Greenheck Production System, Champion Project improved productivity 20 percent and helped the plant increase sales 25 percent, she said.
Meliska attributes her success in engineering to her ability to establish good rapport with co-workers and build credibility: “It doesn’t matter how good your work is or how great of an idea you have. If you can’t communicate it and get buy-in, it’s not going to work very well.”
Kristin Meliska ’02, at Greenheck Fan Corp. of Schofield.
At UW-Stout, where women made up about 10 percent of students enrolled in manufacturing engineering in 2009-2010, collaboration, teamwork and rapport are part of the environment in engineering classes. Students generally form study groups, according to Nancy Schofield, a professor in engineering and technology, adding that for a while, a barrier existed for female engineering students.
“Early on, women engineering students talked about how guys wouldn’t invite them to be part of study groups and work through homework together,” Schofield said. “And they were feeling like they couldn’t ask to be in the groups.”
In the last seven years, that problem has dissipated. “That has improved. Stout is a friendly campus, a good place to come for women,” she said.
Schofield is the adviser for UW-Stout’s chapter of the national Society of Women Engineers. The national group was formed in 1950. SWE offers training and development, scholarships and outreach. The non-profit organization is focused on helping new women engineers, Schofield said.
The SWE chapter at UW-Stout has about 10 members.
In the workplace, Schofield believes women might even have an advantage over men when it comes to landing an engineering job. “I have talked to employers who go out of their way to hire women,” Schofield said.
A component of Meliska’s success as an engineer is her connection with other engineers in central Wisconsin. She tours the region as a leader in a Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ local chapter. “Being involved with this group has helped me grow as a leader, develop my communication skills and build connections with other engineers in the area,” she said.
Yet the reality for her, like many career women, is that she struggles to balance family and work. Because she leads projects that impact a shop floor running 24 hours a day, Meliska’s support system is crucial. “I think women can easily do both, but it is all about balance and having the right support system,” she said, mentioning help she receives from her husband, a fellow engineer.
The most rewarding part of Meliska’s position is helping others achieve their goals, mostly because she remembers how it felt to be a new engineer on staff. “I remember the satisfaction of completing challenging projects. I want others to have that same opportunity,” she said.
One of her first engineering challenges involved an egg. In a high school physics class, Meliska worked with a group of students to design a Rube Goldberg machine, one that takes a simple task and turns it into a complicated process. UW-Stout hosts an annual Rube Goldberg competition for high school students.
Her team’s goal was to crack an egg. “I remember spending countless hours in my parents’ kitchen designing and tweaking this machine, even borrowing various condiment containers to meet project standards. It didn’t take long to realize that engineering was the right career for me,” Meliska said.
For Kari Goulet Berthiaume BS ’02, MS ’09, also a manufacturing engineering graduate, opportunity knocked at Andersen Corp., a Minnesota-based company that manufactures doors and windows. Berthiaume completed a nine-month co-op for Andersen while in college and, after accepting a job offer at another company, decided to return to Andersen’s Menomonie plant in fall 2003 as an engineer.
Her co-op experience is typical at UW-Stout. About 75 percent of students have co-op or internship experiences, which often lead directly to full-time jobs with those employers.
“During my first professional position at a previous company, there were some men who pre-judged my ability as a young female engineer, but once they got to know me and work with me, the barriers started to lift,” said Berthiaume, who of late has been supporting a new premium window product launch that focuses on key customer requirements.  The product is available in multiple color and stain offerings and custom sizes, within a very short lead time.
She doesn’t see gender as an issue in engineering. “I feel that type of mentality is fading into a thing of the past.  At least at the company I’m currently at and my experiences at Stout, I’ve never seen my gender as a roadblock to success,” she said.
While at UW-Stout, Berthiaume’s most useful lesson was the importance of teamwork: “To achieve a goal or complete a project, I learned to build friendships and working relationships to ensure a collaborative effort.”
She owes her confidence and success to admitting her mistakes and learning from them, she said. Berthiaume said she surrounds herself with people who want to see her succeed, including family, co-workers, friends and former professors.
In May of 2009, she received a Master of Science degree in technology management from UW-Stout. She has given guest lectures at UW-Stout and remains in contact with several of her professors, including Jim Keyes and Bryan Beamer in operations and management and risk control; Linards Stradins in engineering and technology; and Rich Rothaupt, associate dean in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
In the last year, Berthiaume has worked with Keyes to help pair more than 25 students with Andersen engineers on six student projects. With Beamer, she has coordinated safety and ergonomics tours for UW-Stout students at Andersen.
Also, she has facilitated the donation of used Andersen engineering equipment to the university for capstone class projects, via Stradins and Rothaupt, she said.
Don Rothbauer ‘79 and Scotty Wertel MS ‘01, both fellow UW-Stout alumni, are two of Berthiaume’s closest professional connections. Rothbauer has mentored Berthiaume on building a sustainable lean manufacturing culture and the skill of strategic project planning. Wertel has helped her learn the importance of designing safety and ergonomics into new and existing processes, she said.
To pass on her knowledge, Berthiaume takes time to mentor students, production associates and another female engineer who recently joined Andersen. “I’m very excited to have seen their project-management skills and confidence level grow over the last year. It is very rewarding to watch others develop professionally,” Berthiaume said.
When she was younger, Berthiaume was interested in art and math. She also welded and sandblasted while growing up, a skill she learned from her father, a machinist and small business owner.
Ultimately, she chose to go into engineering after her high school teachers encouraged her to pursue a field that used her math and art skills. She also credits her parents for her success. They “encouraged me to be independent and creative,” Berthiaume said.
“The most rewarding part of engineering is the ability to express myself and collaborate with others. I enjoy seeing a project advance from idea to reality.”
- Kari Berthiaum
Robin Schulte ’08 has learned a valuable lesson during her short time in the workplace: Earning the respect of co-workers is key to being accepted. Schulte is enjoying her job as a manufacturing engineer at a John Deere skid steer factory in Dubuque, Iowa. She has UW-Stout to thank for that, she says.