Alumni Profile: Meghan Estochen (’08)

Meghan Estochen (’08)  graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in chemical engineering. After graduation, she worked for two years as a materials engineer specializing in adhesives for a Rochester, New York based company that made optical units for satellites. Meghan then moved to Albuquerque, NM to take a Manufacturing Engineering position with SolAero Technologies, which specializes in making solar cells and solar panels for space applications. In her time at SolAero Technologies Meghan has held positions of increasing responsibility including Configuration Manager, which over time expanded to include managing the Drafting team, and the Manufacturing and Test Engineering Manager for the solar panel product line. Currently, she is the Manager of Continuous Improvement, working with the entire organization to make strategic, Lean driven improvements.

As the Manager of Continuous Improvement Meghan seeks to challenge the status quo every day. Her job is to ask “why?” and “what can we do better?” and then guide teams of hardworking, dedicated individuals to achieve great improvements. She teaches critical thinking, implementation of solutions, and how to always search for better ways to do things. This is applied in all areas of the business: production, engineering, supply chain, finance, corporate, etc. The primary tools used to generate improvement are derived from Lean Six Sigma, Toyota Manufacturing, and others methodologies that believe the strength of the business is in the creativity of its people and its willingness to constantly change to remain an industry leader. She also operates as a special projects manager using Scrum methodology for system implementation efforts and is a champion of corporate culture. She is grateful for and passionate about her incredibly unique role within SolAero. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Meghan.

What do you find most exciting or interesting about the work that you do?

 The work that I do ties directly to the mission of the organization and the programs it supports, and that motivates me every day. The first project I worked on was the solar panel array that took the Mars Science Lab to Mars. Our company powers satellites that provide early warning for natural disasters, satellites that provide entertainment like Sirius Radio, satellites that explore deep space. We will be powering the closest exploration of the sun with a satellite that will travel at 125 miles/second. We will be powering satellites that will give internet access to the world, starting with schools in third world countries. More than 40% of the power in orbit today came from SolAero Technologies. The impact of my work is vast and meaningful. It is a privilege to be a part of something so exciting.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

During my time at Hope, my technical degree was balanced with my Greek Life involvement. My senior year marked a significant ramp up in my leadership roles in Greek Life. I was the president of the Dorian Sorority, VP of the PanHellenic Council, and started the Greek Women: Making the Ideal Real initiative. I would not have been able to be so active and push for so much positive change during that year though, had it not been for the friendship with and mentoring from Ellen Awad. Her commitment to my development as a leader taught me what meaningful mentoring should look like and it has been something I have continued to leverage in my professional career, both as someone who always looks to improve and as someone now positioned to mentor others. I cannot say enough about how Ellen helped prepare me for a blossoming and fast-tracked career, maybe without even knowing it. Seeking mentors who are willing to invest time in your development and give you honest feedback is what will inevitably help anyone advance to where they want to be.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

 Engineering design is the course that I have been able to apply most in my career. It included elements of design, experimentation, prototyping, and project management. It allowed for creativity, while teaching project management skills. It also provided an avenue for large public speaking forums. Today, I find myself delivering presentations to the entire 300-person organization very comfortably, and I know that started at Hope with the opportunities to present to other students, faculty, and community members.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

There is a joke often made that engineers are a socially awkward breed. And I believe I can geek out with the best of them! But often when this joke is made around me, people tack on “…but not you, we know you are an engineer, but you are an exception to the socially awkward rule.” This always makes me laugh. I believe that this is what a liberal arts education does for those who might naturally tend towards one very technical avenue. It makes us well rounded, relatable people, capable of integrating into a business world filled with many types of people. This will only help a career in an increasingly globalized market.

What advice would you give to current students?

Get involved. Don’t be afraid to take chances and take leadership roles. Push yourself academically and in your extracurricular activities. Value each experience for what you can learn from it and how it will shape you. You will one day look back fondly and be able to see how your Hope experience has made you into the success you are guaranteed to be. And if your career path is anything like mine, where you end up will be wildly different from what you anticipated.

Alumni Profile: Biomedical Engineer, Jo Forst ’13

Jo Forst (‘13) is currently Associate Market Development Manager in the Cardiovascular Division at Medtronic, a major medical technology and services corporation. Jo graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in biomedical engineering. After graduation, she attended the University of Rochester where she obtained a Master of Science degree in biomedical engineering with an emphasis in neuroscience. Her first position at Medtronic was in the neuro modulation division, which focuses on the development of implantable stimulators for restorative medical therapies. Restorative medical therapies can include, for example, deep brain stimulation to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease. Recently she transitioned to the diagnostic business unit within the Cardiovascular Division and works in the metropolitan area of Minneapolis, MN.  In her new role, she is called upon for marketing analytics where she uses her research and technical background.

As a market development manager, Jo works to increase awareness and expand the market opportunity for the use of Medtronic’s cardiovascular devices. Her main project expands the use of an implantable cardiac monitor (ICM) for patients who have had a cryptogenic stroke. A common cause of cryptogenic stroke is atrial fibrillation which originates in the left atrium of the heart. The Medtronic device is 1/3 the size of a AAA battery, and through a minimally invasive technique, sits just under the skin to continuously monitor the heart and detect arrhythmias. Jo’s work focuses on helping overcome barriers in ensuring patients have access to these kinds of diagnostic options. This task involves working with both stroke neurologists, who see cryptogenic stroke patients, and with electrophysiologists who implant the devices and track patients once they receive a long-term cardiac monitor. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Jo.

What do you find most exciting about the work that you do?

 The work I do directly impacts Medtronic patients and customers. Therefore, the most rewarding part of my job is when I get to work with physicians using our devices that improve quality of life for their patients. We are consistently developing new technology which allows us to stay more connected and expands access to more people in need.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

One of my favorite activities was working with Hope’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The trip to Cameroon and the work with the local NGO and community members had a lasting impact on me. It helped shape how I view education and sustainability management. In order for work to be sustainable there needs to be a sense of ownership and passion behind the cause. Connecting with people of all different backgrounds helped me value the importance of inclusion, diversity, and teamwork.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

My time in the Rehabilitation Engineering Lab [performing research with Professor Katie Polasek] was paramount to my engineering education. I utilize the clinical research experience and critical thinking skills every day in my job. My research experience helps set me apart from my peers and allows me to provide a well-rounded perspective for business needs.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I interact with individuals from across many different functional areas and business units regularly. A liberal arts education provided a well-rounded perspective in which I was able to learn and interact with students across other disciplines. As an engineering student, I took advantage of neuroscience courses with other life science students, played a college sport, and performed multidisciplinary research. These experiences, I think, were unique to a liberal arts education.

What advice would you give to current students?

Get involved and take advantage of opportunities to gain project management and leadership skills outside the classroom. These opportunities are plentiful at Hope and will set you apart after graduation.

Alumni Profile: Applications Engineer Kurt Blohm ’06

Kurt Blohm (‘06) is currently an applications engineer at Applied Biomimetic, a company based in Cincinnati, OH, with a unique focus on the development of membranes for water treatment and filtration systems. Kurt graduated from Hope College with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering with an emphasis in chemical engineering. He started his career at ERG, an environmental consulting firm, while also working to obtain his Master of Science degree in chemical engineering at Ohio State University, which he completed in 2010. Kurt has enjoyed a wide variety of experiences including working as a process engineer at an ethanol plant (Valero Renewables), working for a water treatment startup company (Advanced Hydro), and working as a scientist focused on research and development (Battelle).

Kurt Blohm at work. Photo courtesy Applied Biomimetic, Inc.

Kurt describes himself as a chemical process engineer, but his role also includes a healthy dose of sales and business development. In his current role, he travels regularly to customer sites to develop new applications for Applied Biomimetic’s filtration products. His diverse responsibilities also allow him the opportunity to perform research and development work in a laboratory setting, and to design, build, and operate pilot systems to evaluate the success of Applied Biomimetic’s membranes in separating various flow streams. The following are excerpts from a recent correspondence with Kurt.

What do you find most exciting about the work that you do?

I’ve had a range of experiences, from process engineering to R&D and now business development. On any given day, I could be programming a PLC [programmable logic controller], studying protein separation/purification in the lab, or in another country talking to customers. I’ve also had the opportunity to develop my own novel ideas as I have several patents pending in the area of seawater desalination from my time at Battelle. This versatility is a big part of who I am, not just professionally, but personally.

What are some activities you were involved with at Hope that helped shape you as a person?

Engineers without borders was an amazing experience. It helped me realize the value of my education and grew my interest in water and energy. The summer research program is a great way to gain experience and get to know your professors’ research interests.

What aspect of your engineering education was most helpful?

The professors in the sciences are truly top notch. Dr. Misovich was a great mentor and example to me. I could say equally great things about the rest of the faculty, but I had the most exposure to Dr. M.

Can you comment on the liberal arts aspect of Hope?

I think Hope College engineers have a sense of community that I don’t see at other institutions and the same goes for the sports teams (I was on the swim team at Hope). Liberal arts colleges draw that kind of person, but Hope College students are especially community and service oriented.

What advice would you give to current students?

  1. Don’t be overly concerned with grades. If you have a weak subject or two, learn the main concepts and move on.
  2. Get hands on experience as soon as possible, through internships or for example, working in construction.
  3. For chemical engineers: I firmly believe every career chemical engineer should work as a process engineer at a refinery or production plant for some time (or, for example, as a shift supervisor). You should know the plant inside and out by the time you leave – every valve, pump, vessel and control loop. Get to know all the operators, mechanics, and electricians on a personal level because and you can learn a lot from their perspective.
  4. For students pursuing R&D and academia paths, I defer to Richard Feynman: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”