Alumna Caroline Fernandez plays the violin,

Major: Astrophysics
Minor: Music
Profession: Engineer, Henkel Corporation, Detroit, MI
Hometown: Many, including Chicago, Ill.

What are you doing now?

I recently moved out to Detroit, Mich., to work as a design and release engineer at Henkel Corporation. I work on automotive parts that reduce the noise and vibration of all types of automobiles. Part of my job is to travel to different OEM (original equipment manufacturer) plants all over the U.S. and work with the engineers there to push these parts into production and ensure on-time delivery. My team is also heavily involved in testing these parts as well as process improvement. My biggest project right now is to develop a predictive material model using finite element analysis (FEA) software, which will be a powerful tool as it will reduce the amount of both engineering and cost risks for our parts. It's such a fast-paced industry and I love it! Prior to that, I worked as an aerospace design and analysis engineer using carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites, and I did similar projects except on aircraft engines and nacelles.

How did you get to there?

I did summer research (SURP) for two summers as an astrophysics major before deciding to do the 3-2 dual-degree engineering program offered by Pomona (my adviser, Professor Alma Zook, told me one day that I was "closet engineer"). I got my mechanical engineering degree at Washington University in St. Louis through that program. I then worked as an aerospace design and analysis engineer for five and a half years before deciding to switch over to the automotive industry.

How did Pomona prepare you?

A big part of being an engineer is to be able to work a variety of different people. There is a lot of cross-functional interaction, both in the technical side as well as the commercial side. Pomona gave me the broad education and intimate setting that you don't get at a larger university, which meant that I worked in and interacted with small, diverse groups all the time. This really translated well when I got into industry. Pomona also surrounded me with so many brilliant minds, who forced me to think critically so I can be pushed to my limits and out of my comfort zone. I learned a lot from my peers about how our world works outside of my own technical world. Lastly, I was a Posse Foundation Scholar on campus, which was a big part of my life there because my Posse and Posse mentor, Professor Shahriar Shahriari, were the biggest support systems I had on campus, both academically and socially. They helped shaped me into the strong, driven woman that I am today.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Caroline Fernandez plays the violin in the outdoors.

I just finished getting my M.S. in mechanics of structures at UCLA, which is a specialized mechanical engineering degree. I'm hoping to use that degree to teach part-time as an adjunct professor, since I was given so many opportunities and it is my way of giving back. Eventually I would like to become a technical lead, pursue my M.B.A., and go into management so I can make a bigger impact in industry. Outside of my technical career, I am planning on becoming heavily involved in music and my local orchestra, which I have continued after my time at Pomona, and I am also considering going into local politics at some point.

Any advice for prospective or current students? 

Don't be afraid to ask for help and to go out of your comfort zone! That is how you exceed your limits. Having mentors at Pomona is essential to success. They can be academic mentors that help you with class, or mentors that you can just vent to about something going on in your life or help you make a major decision. But I think what is also key is *maintaining* those relationships after you graduate since you will be able to use them as references. Really leverage the network you build at Pomona, as they will open up opportunities for you to advance in your career.