For over two decades, Stacey DelVecchio has worked for Caterpillar Inc. in a variety of capacities, from process and product development to new product introduction. In her current role as engineering talent pipeline manager, DelVecchio, a Six Sigma Black Belt, works to ensure the finest talent in the field is available to meet the needs of the enterprise. This position coincided with her recent term as president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where she worked to deliver a message on the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills to up-and-coming engineers. Between work, her life membership with SWE and a variety of volunteer roles, we caught up with Stacey to discuss her passion for engineering and for empowering young girls “to know that they can do anything they set their mind to.”
They say even as kids, future engineers are ever curious about how things work. Did you always want to be an engineer?
I had no idea I wanted to be an engineer. I loved to read, and I loved math. Believe it or not, I actually used to read my family’s encyclopedias. This was before the Internet, so the encyclopedia was the closest thing we had to Google. I loved learning. So while I wasn’t the type of future engineer that would tear things apart and put them back together, I was very curious, especially when it came to science.
How did you first become acquainted with Caterpillar? Describe how your career with the company has evolved.
My parents owned a small nursery in Cleveland, Ohio, and my dad had a couple pieces of Cat equipment. That was all I knew about Caterpillar. After I got my degree in chemical engineering, I started working at Ashland Chemical Company in Columbus, Ohio. My now-husband had gotten a job at Caterpillar and put me in contact with the company to ask about me getting a job as well. Since I had a chemical engineering degree, I wasn’t sure Caterpillar would need people with my background. It turns out they did, and I hired into a group that managed the engineering of non-metallics used on Cat equipment.
I mainly worked on rubber and plastic parts used in our transmissions. Most of the parts I worked on were made at Caterpillar due to their proprietary nature. That was the fun part—going out to the shop to make test parts no one else had made before. I had several assignments in this area and eventually became an engineering manager. After that, I transitioned to the new product introduction side of our fuel systems business, and then had several assignments in a similar capacity in our engine business. That’s a whirlwind tour of my 23 years at Caterpillar. For the last two years, I’ve been in my current role as an engineering talent pipeline manager. This role coincided with my term as president of the Society of Women Engineers and allows for some synergy to deliver a common message about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills to the next wave of engineers.
At Caterpillar, you are responsible for engagement strategy with external engineering organizations. What does this role entail?
My responsibilities are focused on our relationships with not only the SWE, but also with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). I’ve worked with several of my Caterpillar colleagues to develop a strategy that outlines how to best work with these societies toward common goals. Our engagement with these groups is important because it helps the company build a diverse pipeline of talent, provides a platform for us to connect with other businesses to share best practices, and aids in the retention, advancement and recognition of our diverse talent. There’s a lot of great work going on in the area of diversity in STEM, and Caterpillar has played a big role in shaping those efforts, along with these professional organizations. We need to continue establishing the right relationships with groups that have programs and services that align with our long-term STEM goals.
As a female—a minority in the engineering field—what challenges have you faced in your education and career?
In school, I was lucky to have supportive teachers and parents. My challenges in education were just the basic struggles of getting through challenging coursework. I also had a supportive network of girlfriends in my classes. I think this helped with the isolation many women feel when they are one of very few in their engineering classes. In building my career, the challenges have been subtle. For the most part, I’ve had amazing managers and challenging assignments. The challenges have been in regards to feeling like I belong. Little things—like being asked to join people for a cup of coffee or lunch—can really add up. I tend to be pretty assertive, so I’m fine with inserting myself into these groups. However, when it happens time and time again, I think it would be helpful not to have to try so hard. Other challenges are in regards to work styles. My work styles are different than the majority, and the challenge has been making sure that those different work styles are valued.
Do you think the challenges for minorities in the engineering field differ from challenges in other fields?
I think the challenges for women engineers are different simply because women engineers are so scarce, and the same could ring true for minorities in general in engineering roles. Most other professions, such as doctors and lawyers, have reached the point where it’s not unusual to see a woman in these careers. Recruiting and retaining a diverse pool of talent in the STEM field remains a challenge for companies with a broad need for engineers.
Engineering also faces the challenge of attracting young girls to the profession. We need to ensure they see how engineers change the world and stop focusing on the math and science portion. Engineers really do cool stuff. Let’s be sure that’s the first thing that comes to mind when kids think of engineering. I’m really pleased to see so much attention around this of late. Our graduation rates have gotten better over the years, with graduating classes of engineers now having 18 percent women on average. The progress is there; it’s just slower than I’d like to see.
We have a big challenge in retaining women engineers in the field as well. With so few of them, role models for people entering the profession are not as plentiful, and role models are important for people to see that they can be successful in the profession. There are definitely role models out there… but they are harder to find. Creating an inclusive environment is another aspect that is key to retaining these women engineers. We all want to work in an environment where we feel included. Sometimes, it’s just hard to know exactly what that feels like, which is why it’s such a challenge. Through the years, there’s no question that the work environments are more inclusive. We’re openly talking about these types of issues now, which is incredibly encouraging.
Washington, D.C. also has a lot of interest in increasing diversity in STEM jobs. It’s because of this interest that I was invited to attend the White House Summit on Working Families. Every year, we lose women engineers that we have in the profession, making it harder and harder to increase the overall number of women engineers. While women leave the profession for a variety of reasons, one of them is because they are looking for flexibility in their work. We hear this again and again. You can also find this message in SWE’s newly released e-book, the Work & Life Integration Playbook. It was encouraging to hear so many of our political leaders echo the need for workplace flexibility.
How did you first become involved with the Society of Women Engineers?
I become involved with the Society of Women Engineers back in 1994 because I wanted to be around like-minded women. The group of ladies in the Central Illinois Section offered me support and encouragement when no one else did. They enjoyed engineering and wanted others to see how great the profession was for women. Through the years, I’ve learned so much about the need for and value of diversity from my engagement with SWE. The society has helped me find a voice to share this message. I’ve met so many role models through the society as well. These role models have come in many different forms—some are younger, some are older, some work in different industries, some work in the same industry. Regardless of background, there are some amazing women engineers out there, and I’ve been honored to meet many of them. While I hope to inspire others, there’s no doubt that I have been inspired myself.
What were your favorite duties in your role as society president?
My primary role was to be the external face of the society. There is so much interest around women in engineering, diversity and STEM right now that I’ve had many requests for media interviews. I’ve enjoyed these, as it’s given me the opportunity to spread the word about the value of diversity. Once I got past the self-conscious nature of seeing myself quoted in print, I really enjoyed the process. However, my favorite part of the role has been engaging with managers who have heard the buzz about women engineers. They want to learn more and do what they can to change the situation. This is my favorite audience, and I love sharing the work we’re doing to help make a difference.
Tell us about your presentation to the U.S. Senate STEM Education and Workforce Caucus in March.
The Senate STEM Education and Workforce Caucus wanted to hear about helping children in rural areas. This is a tough issue, as children in rural areas just don’t have access to as many programs as children in more urban areas. I spoke about the basics—interacting with children and using messaging from the National Academy of Engineering about “changing the conversation” is critical. I talked about how it’s important to emphasize that engineers change the world, rather than how hard they have to study math and science.
To engage with students in rural areas, SWE relies on its local sections. These sections are a great resource for students and can help host activities that showcase creativity and innovation in engineering. SWE also has resources for school counselors, as we need adult influencers to have the right message about engineering too. And as the students get ready for college, we have numerous scholarships. In 2013 alone, we awarded over $550,000 in scholarship to aspiring women engineers.
What advice would you give to minorities seeking a career in math and science?
Think about how you want to change the world; then think about how you can do it. If you think about your future from this approach, I’m fairly certain engineering will be at the top of your list. After all, engineers do change the world. The next step is to think about how to get there—that’s where your education comes in. The bottom line is this: be a good student and learn all you can. Be curious. You don’t need to be the valedictorian in your class to be a good engineer; you just need to have the right math and science background. If things get tough, refer back to the first question… how do you want to change the world? Engineering is so much more than just getting through engineering school. I want people to think about what they do once they are engineers. This is when the fun begins. As an engineer, you spend a lot more time doing amazing work than you do getting your engineering degree. Think about the end game, and if you’re feeling a little isolated, seek out role models. The Society of Women Engineers is a great resource for that. iBi