Three Generations of Women Engineers: A 2019 Mother's Day Reflection

2019 marks the 20th year of my mom’s passing.

                                                                                       

My mom grew up in a small Indonesian island village where high school didn't exist and most girls stopped schooling at 15 years old. She fought with all her might to be allowed to go to high school in the city, jumped on a ship to move to China by herself (after high school) and became the one and only college graduate in her family of six kids. She raised my sister and me in a tiny, three-bedroom apartment that we shared with two other families. She endured a year-long labor camp but never gave up learning while being isolated in that remote harsh region. When I was 12, mom used all her savings and took my sister and I traveling for three days on a slow train to visit Hong Kong. That was my first time seeing a place outside mainland China. Mom showed us a different kind of life and the freedom one could have if they studied and worked hard. Despite all of the odds against her, my mom retired as a Senior Chemical Engineer from a top research institute in Beijing. Consequently, both my sister and I went to a university in Canada on scholarships and we each ended up with three degrees.

  2019 marks the 20th year of me working in manufacturing engineering.

I joined Emerson as a Sales and Application Engineer in a Canadian factory fresh out of college. After getting experience in project bidding, application engineering, project management and operations, I moved to Singapore in 2005. For three years, I helped to hire and train people, set up operation processes and support business development throughout the Asia Pacific region. Today, we have thriving operations in China, Malaysia, Singapore and India supporting global customers. A lot of Emerson business unit leaders in Asia operations were hired and trained by me.  

In addition to meeting so many amazing people from all corners of the world, I was able to actually see the world while working. I sat in front of the Taj Mahal after training our Chennai engineering team, rode a bicycle in Amsterdam after meeting with technical leaders at Shell, watched gorgeous sunsets over the ocean in Perth, Australia, after visiting an Emerson Impact Partner, dipped my toes in the Arabian Sea close to the Emerson Dubai office and stayed overnight in a 17th century castle close by our Italian factory.

In 2008, I moved to Houston, Texas. Since then I have worked in operations, global technical training and product marketing. Today, I’m the Senior Director of Global Product Management and oversee a multi-hundred-million-dollar manufacturing portfolio in the US, China and Italy. 

Lastly, 2019 marks the year my daughter begins engineering school.

Along with a busy career, I am also a "hockey mom" of a boy and a girl. My daughter is a busy young woman. She led her school’s student council, participated in the political club, she sings, models, and is a national Tier 1 level ice hockey player.  In Texas high school, the only way she could play was on the boys varsity team. Danielle is the only girl on the varsity team since freshman year and was voted the co-captain! 

Being a girl and a leader in a “boy sport” has taught both my daughter and me a LOT throughout the years. We learned about character, passion, fairness, confidence, fearlessness, grit and perseverance. I am so immensely proud of the strong, intelligent, confident young woman that she has become. As a"hockey mom," I've learned that sports can be a great way to build leadership skills and self-esteem for young women. For more information, you can read this article from Modern Wellness Guide.

To continue our family tradition, Danielle decided to go to engineering school (YAY!). This fall, my little girl is starting the Engineering Honor program at Texas A&M University. I am so incredibly proud of her and can’t wait to see what lies ahead for her. If you're interested in higher education supporting Women in Engineering (for yourself or young women in your life) here’s a good resource on the opportunities Texas A&M has to offer.

 From Indonesia to China, from China to Canada, from Canada to Singapore, from Singapore to Texas, the lives of my mom, myself and my daughter have been drastically different. However, we all share the same spirit. I believe it can be summed up perfectly by Steve Jobs’ famous quote, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.  

We're hungry for knowledge so we pursue higher education. We’re hungry for freedom - so we jump on ships and planes for other countries and in cars to move to other cities. Hungry for independence - so we build careers to support ourselves. Hungry for love - so we make sacrifices to raise families.  And we’re all foolish enough to ignore what others see as potentially insurmountable obstacles and push forward in the face of challenge to chase our dreams.

Here are three life principles my mom taught me, which I have passed on to my daughter:

  • Be FIERCELY self-reliant-emotionally and financially. If you need to rely on another person to live the life you want and make you happy, you are not doing it right.
  • Be kind to yourself, FIRST. If you are happy and strong, your kids, relationship and work will fall into place. Make yourself a priority, forgive yourself for mishaps and do NOT sweat the small stuff. (Store-bought cookies for the school bake sale is OKAY! It’s not the end of the world if your kid can’t play piano, etc.)
  • Be kind to others, ALWAYS. Networking does not mean taking from others, it means building real connections. When you send out kindness without expecting it in return, you’ll get kindness, support, and even fortune back. Karma is real.

Although my mom passed away 20 years ago, she's really never been gone from my life. She is what I hear when facing uncertainty; she is what I see when drowned in stress; and she is always what I feel when I make her proud.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and/or to all the strong women in your lives.