Elaine's Success Story

There are a multitude of reasons why a person chooses to attend a particular university. Reasons to attend OU's School of Engineering and Computer Science are as numerous as the students themselves. Each month the SECS will feature a new "Student Success" story on our homepage. Be sure to check back often to see the new featured student or alumni and read why they chose SECS

Elaine's Success Story
Elaine Avery, Master of Science, Engineering Management, '10.

What is your background?
I am a first generation Arab-American who grew up in Garden City.  My parents are hardworking people who only wanted the best for their daughters and wanted to give us all the things they struggled for, namely a college education.  I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for my undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering.  After I graduated in 2003, I worked at a couple different companies until I found my current employer, Hi-Lex Controls in Rochester Hills.  I also got married in 2007 and in 2011 had my first child.  

I decided to go to OU for graduate school and started in 2008 as a part time student.  I worked full time (40+ hours a week) and went to graduate school in the evenings, typically taking 2 classes a semester. 

I’ve been working at Hi-Lex for 6 years now. I’ve been the lead product engineer on our Chrysler products, which include the door module systems for the Ram Truck and the Jeep Wrangler.  I’m responsible for the development, testing, validating, quality and performance of the door systems for front and rear doors. 

What were the circumstances surrounding the moment at which you realized that you wanted to go into your chosen field of study?
I had been working as an engineer for a few years and realized that, in the future, I may want to leave the technical side of engineering and move more toward the business/commercial side of things.  That is difficult to do without a formal business education.  But OU offers a great program that is geared toward professionals who are looking for exactly that-- a business background, but not necessarily a full blown MBA, which would take a very long time to finish.  The Engineering Management Master’s program added to my engineering knowledge, gave me the benefit of choosing business courses that interested me, and helped me achieve my career goals while giving me the extra edge over colleagues who only have an engineering background.

Did you always think that you had what it takes to go into this line of work?
I’ve always known that if I put my mind on something and put forth the effort, I can achieve anything.  I went to OU as a part time graduate student who worked full time.  I was lucky that, as long as I earned a 3.0 or above, my employer would pay for my graduate school, so there was no reason for me not to pursue higher education.  Working full time, going to school at night and doing homework and projects at night and on weekends was not always easy, but in the end, it was well worth it.

What is so exciting about your major?
Engineering Management is truly the best of both worlds!  It’s half engineering, half business. I got to choose the courses I was interested in and OU even worked with me to petition changing requirements around a bit to tailor the curriculum to my personal interests and schedule.  I can take this degree to stay in the technology field, or I could take it to something completely different. It opened up the possibilities for me simply by joining the business and engineering schools for one program.

What attracted you to Oakland University?
I had colleagues that went to OU and highly recommended it.  OU is close to where I work, so I could go to class right after I got off work.  I also liked that professors understood that the majority of graduate students in engineering management were part time students who worked full time.  Unlike most undergraduate students, school couldn’t always be our #1 priority; we had careers, families and real expenses to also worry about.  They worked with our schedules and homework due dates.  As long as lines of communication were open, I never had an issue balancing my work schedule (especially if I had a business trip to take and would have to miss a class) and my school schedule/work load.

Describe some of your favorite teachers at OU.
Dr. Senkar Sengupta was my favorite engineering teacher at OU.  He truly cared that his students understood of the course material, and not so much the final answer at the end.  He always answered e-mails promptly, was available for questions before and after class, or even during my lunch break at work!  I took Professor Sengupta for 3 courses at OU. I didn’t love all of the course material, but I did like the way he taught and how he developed relationships with his students.

Professor Fredrick Hoffman was my favorite business teacher, I took him for MGT 550 (Business Law), which was my favorite class of graduate school.  He had the real world experience that he shared in the classroom.  He taught relevant topics that we may use at any time in our careers.  He made us think and stay on our toes.  He was always available for questions and encouraged class discussions on current issues.  We all knew that Profession Hoffman didn’t “need” to work, he just genuinely enjoyed teaching and I looked forward to learning from him at each class.

Besides textbook information, what else did you learn through your experience at OU?
I learned that it’s never too late or too early to pursue higher education.  I went to college right after high school and finished my undergraduate degree in the traditional fashion.  I started working shortly after I graduated and waited 7 years to go back to graduate school.  For me, that was perfect.  I got real world experience and was able to bring that into my classroom.  There were people younger than me, my age and much older than me in class.  Everyone had a different skill set and a different reason for being there, but we all shared a common goal of doing well in our classes and learning as much as we could.  I found that graduate school was much more relaxed and enjoyable than undergrad.  A Master’s degree isn’t a complete necessity for a career in engineering like a Bachelor’s degree is, so the pressure was off a lot more.

What do you do for your job?
I’m a product engineer at Hi-Lex Controls working on door systems for Chrysler products, specifically the Ram Truck and the Jeep Wrangler.  I developed door modules, which includes the window regulator assembly (makes your window go up and down), latching system, inside handle, and various directed source components such as speakers, pressure sensors, door control modules, wiring harnesses, etc. from concept to production.  I determine feasibility of new and existing components using various engineering analytical tools, review and define test methods based on Hi-Lex and Chrysler specifications, coordinate testing and prototype builds of products, provide technical support to customers, manufacturing, quality assurance, program management and sales, prepare and check 3D models, drawings and design studies, identify root cause and counter-measures for system failures and quality concerns, actively support VA/VE and DFM activities, prepare tolerance stack ups, problem solving reports and DVP&R reports.  I work closely with Chrysler engineers at the technical center and at the corresponding assembly plants that these vehicles are manufactured.

How has your education at OU prepared you for your job?
It has helped me understand the pipeline that programs go through in order to get to the engineering level.  Everything from how parts are ordered, to how they are assembled, the flow of the various assembly lines, the form of payment from the customers and the billing systems, etc.  I never really thought about these things until I went to OU because they didn’t directly affect my job.

Do you find that only those from the very high profile schools are the ones who excel?
I have found that, no matter what school you went to, it doesn’t make a huge difference as long as you understand the basic concepts of your field.  We learn so much in undergrad and graduate school, there is no way you will use all of the information you learn.  You will do a lot of learning on the job, and your real world work experience is what matters more than what school you went to.

Would you recommend that prospective students consider OU for a degree in your chosen major?
Absolutely. Engineering Management is an innovative program for engineers who want to learn more about business.  It’s a perfect medium to get the most out of your engineering background and dive into business as well.

What advice would you offer prospective students?
I would advise them to do their best, work hard, don’t let one or two boring classes let you down, enjoy the classes you love, MAKE FRIENDS, have fun, keep your head on straight and simply enjoy this time in your life because you’ll never get it back.

I would advise prospective students to think about what their goals are, what kind of work they want to do, what they want to do in the future and to be realistic about their goals. Keep in mind you may have to make compromises along the way. I never wanted to work in the auto industry when I was in college. But, I quickly learned that if I wanted to stay in Michigan and be an engineer, this was most likely going to be my path. And it is. While I never thought I'd be working in this industry, I have embraced it. To do otherwise would be an injustice to my employer and myself.