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Engineering: Alumni & Friends


Alumni Profiles: Srb Sisters

Brad NydahlThe Srb sisters and UNL College of Engineering alumni: JoAnn, Cindy and Marie

While it hasn’t been proven that having a knack for engineering is a genetic trait, the Srb sisters would be an intriguing case study. All three received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UNL College of Engineering and are among the approximately one out of every 10 working engineers nationally that are female.

Nebraska Engineering caught up with these UNL alumni and found out more about their experiences in their careers and how they are encouraging other generations to get involved in math, science and engineering.

  • Marie (Srb) Kapels B.S. 1993, Computer Science / M.S. 1998, Industrial and Management Systems
  • Cindy (Srb) Tederman B.S. 1996, Industrial Engineering / M.ENG. 2001, Engineering Management
  • JoAnn (Srb) Haworth B.S. 1998, Industrial Engineering / M.S. 2002, Engineering Management

How did you determine the right major for you in college?

Marie: In 8th grade I took a “skills” test and it said I would be good at keyboarding. My parents translated that into good at Computer Engineering. Math and science were always strong suits. It helped that both our parents have masters and understood the value of a good education. It’s important to help kids’ investigate careers thru their grade school – high school training to help make some of those decisions.

Cindy: My dad was an engineer and my mom was a teacher. At that age, I was thinking those were my two choices for careers because that was all I knew. I did know I didn’t have the patience to be a teacher – so I chose engineering. I started in computer science and that lasted one semester because I realized I wanted more interaction with people. I went to Love Library and researched other types of engineering and found Industrial, which sounded exactly what I wanted to do.

JoAnn: My favorite classes in high school were calculus, physics and chemistry; those were the ones I looked forward to every day. Anytime you mentioned that to an adult they would say you should be an engineer, which was good advice. Then having sisters going through the engineering program at UNL and being so excited about college helped.

What are some fond memories of your college days?

Marie: It was fun to be around the students in the engineering college, as we all had the same opportunities for difficult teachers, classes and lots of homework. I remember A LOT of studying. I enjoyed the campus environment, the intramural sports, and meeting new people. The first two years were hard. The classes were hard and it was generals so it seemed like it didn’t apply. However, the junior and senior year that classes were exciting and I remember really liking it. I received my master’s degree via Corp-NET through UNL via Central Community College in Columbus, so all my classes were on TV. My master’s was done while I was working so I was never at a loss for any material for projects. There was a real life component and many applications to working while obtaining my master’s degree!

Cindy: I truly enjoyed UNL. I was so excited to go to college because of the encouragement of our parents for many years. I loved the amount of activities from being in a sorority, to intramurals, to football games and engineering classes. When you start engineering – the first couple of years don’t seem like they have much to do with what you signed up for – but they are the foundation of problem solving that you need later. After I got into the core classes, I enjoyed the subjects much better. Once you get in, it definitely feels like the professors want you to succeed and actively help you achieve your goal of becoming an engineer.

JoAnn: I always thought college was the only option after high school so to be there felt right from the start. The campus and engineering college did provide good memories – looking back it probably looks a lot different than when I was going through, but every success, whether it was doing good on a test, paper or project, you remember those successes and they do shape your collegiate experience to be successful and keeps you moving forward.

What type of involvement did you have in college outside of class?

Marie: I was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi Sorority and we played all the intramural sports. I had friends from Abel Hall as well as friends from Columbus.

Cindy: You are testing my memory…same as the other two, except I got to be in college and do these things with both of my sisters.

JoAnn: I was a member of Alpha Omicron Pi as well and played intramural sports. I did some volunteering with Campus Red Cross.

Explain your current job and responsibilities.

Marie: My current job with Nebraska Public Power District is Resource Planning Coordinator. I work on planning to help make sure we have the resources needed to continue to be a viable electric utility well into the future. I am enjoying working with the people at NPPD and learning the industry. While I was hired to do technical analysis, my previous 15 years of experience came from industry where improving processes is part of daily life. I enjoy learning about what people are doing and working hand in hand to help improve their daily processes. The concepts of Industrial Engineering and Management are sciences. It’s fun to teach them as most people can relate to Continuous Improvement concepts such as tools out of the Lean toolbox, such as 5S (Sort, Shine, Set in Order, Standardize, Sustain).

Cindy: My current role is Director of Strategic Sourcing for Valmont Industries, Inc. Valmont is a global company that is headquartered out of Omaha, Neb., and is a leader in Mechanized Irrigation Equipment, Lighting/ Utility/ Sign Structures, Tubing, Galvanizing/Coatings, and Barrier Systems. The group of colleagues I work with leverage the spending of the organization in the areas of common purchases. We leverage knowledge of the global markets to assist the business units in building a supply chain that brings the best value to their organizations.

JoAnn: My current job is with Claas Omaha as the Operations Supervisor. Claas is a manufacturer of harvesting equipment, specifically the Lexion combine. I manage a large budget that includes assembly salaries, tools, fluids, rework, and paint. I work with all departments on a consistent basis improving procedures to ensure a quality product gets delivered to our customers.

What do you like about being in engineering?

Marie: I enjoy helping other people and giving them a feeling they can make a positive difference in their jobs. All work has value and people want to be respected for what they do. I help them realize that and work on things they feel would help their job by applying Industrial Engineering and Management concepts. It’s a constant learning process.

Cindy: To me, being an engineer is all about creative problem solving. You are always looking at situations and creating new ways of doing things – lots of times – in ways that haven’t been done before. So many people go to work and want things to be “better.” Listening to people who are not “content” and see opportunities to make the product or service better and then working with them to improve their situation usually betters the entire organization.

JoAnn: It does become more of a passion – work does not feel like work in this profession. You have the ability and credibility to find problems and solve them, which makes it self contained, but also others come to you with problems that you have the tools you learn in college to compile solutions and implement.

What challenges/obstacles did you overcome to be in your current position?

Marie: Engineering is challenging. Nothing is static. You are in a constant position in the organization to always be “fixing” something even if others do not see it is broke. That can be stressful and difficult mainly because of the people interactions. After people see good intent and success, they are willing to keep moving forward. People don’t mind change – they just enjoy knowing what’s it in for them, which is a key piece to influencing change.

Cindy: I have learned that engineering will get your foot in the door – but people don’t listen to you just because you have an engineering degree. I think women engineers are still more rare than I would like to see – but having a couple of engineering degrees helps add some credentials to your ideas. The other key element of any success is to make sure you bring people along that you work well with. When you first start out, it may seem like you accomplish so much on your own – but always give credit where credit is due and people will want to work with you more as you help them succeed.

JoAnn: Whenever you start a new job you’ll be the underdog (I was in my current position many years ago), but out of college, what you can bring to the table is new ideas and the biggest part that you can bring is the ability to learn, whether it is a new job and new technology and new procedure. When maybe you are in a male-dominated field or you are the youngest and most inexperienced, your ability to jump in and learn with a positive attitude will take you a long way.

What are the benefits of earning a master’s degree in engineering?

Marie: My master’s degree helped me be able to apply for other jobs. I am a methodical problem solver (computer side) that understands people and processes (industrial side). Who doesn’t want that in their organization!! I have also been able to be in leadership roles at all the companies I have worked for.

Cindy: A master’s degree – while working in a professional role– helped me to apply the concept to reality. It was so meaningful and educational to study a problem in a book and then apply the philosophy or concept to a real business issue. Personally, it brought all of the tools and ideas I learned in my undergraduate program together with the real world. Also, having a master’s level education to put on a resume adds so much value. It is not only the degree but the indication you enjoy learning and personal continuous improvement. Employers need people who are open to those ideas. JoAnn: My master’s degree really just furthered my credibility and allows for promotions beyond other colleagues that may not have taken that step. The skills in the master’s really applied to current job situations and kept me up on the world and which way management and engineering was going.

How can professional engineers serve as mentors for students?

Marie: I think mentoring students in grade school, junior high and high school is important because we have to give people a “what it looks like” idea. It’s hard to think of 4-5 years of school and not know what the benefits will be. When Cindy and I attended the SWE [Society of Women in Engineering at UNL] event, the parents and students have a “vision” about what an engineer “looks like”. We have to all keep our minds open about the possibilities and help people see different views and opportunitities. It’s about learning and understanding what different engineers do and tying that back to real world influences engineers can have. Any opportunity to go and communicate is a great place to go!

Cindy: I think all kids need to learn how to create a vision and execute on that vision. Whether it be a personal goal or learning goal – that skill to envision a solution built on imagination and creativity is essential. Engineers can utilize the training they have to teach students to use those tools and ideas to be creative problem solvers, which is in essence creating a vision of how something should look and execute. Also, engineers should also mentor students in the monitor and adjust cycle. When you are creating things from “scratch,” there will be changes that happen along the way, which is part of business and life.

JoAnn: I think mentoring students is important and - in fact - did a job shadow last week. The young high school male was so ready to go to school after seeing a day in an engineer’s life. It seems like high schools are having more programs that encourage kids not just to take the test but go see what some of these jobs may be like. I would encourage any younger person to see if they can do a job shadow to get a better feel about their future.

What advice would you give new engineering graduates?

Marie: Network. Find internships or places you can even volunteer during college to gain experience. Learn every day and keep learning. None of us have “arrived.”

Cindy: Look at all of your options. Engineers are problem solvers. They are always looking to create new ways of doing things. Organizations need people who can build on what they are already have and make it better. If the role you start in matches your “values” – it does not need to be the “engineer”. Find an organization you believe in and go sell yourself and your skills. The engineering degree with just help you get in the door.

JoAnn: Take the job that may not fit your mold exactly, but one that you can gain experience. It is a tough economy and when it does look better you’ll be in place to get the jobs that open up.

What are you involved in outside of work?

Marie: I have a family – husband and four kids: my daughter, Logan, is 7; my son, Caden, is 5; and daughter, Carley, is 2. My oldest daughter’s name is Lynsey and she was born May 18, 2001 and died December 27, 2002. We keep busy with family activities, including visiting grandma/grandpas, aunts/uncles and doing fun things like ranching and camping. We also like outside activities and sports. I own and operate my own business as well.

Cindy: I have a husband and three young children. We are busy with work, school, family and activities.

JoAnn: I have a family – husband and two kids. Family keeps us busy outside of work and we enjoy that with good jobs you have the weekends to enjoy.