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Engineers Week: Olivia LeBlanc

Chemical engineer Olivia LeBlanc talks about how a her first internship opportunity at WE09 led to a promising career right out of college.
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Name: Olivia LeBlanc

Current Engineering Discipline: Chemical Engineering

Current Title and Company: Production Engineer at Olin Corporation, Blue Cube Operations, LLC

Olivia LeBlanc, Society of Women Engineers, Engineers Week

HQ: What prompted you to join SWE?

OLB: Members of the Baton Rouge Professional and LSU Collegiate Section showed me that SWE could provide me with the support and network that I would need to be successful in obtaining my engineering degree at LSU.

HQ: What is your favorite SWE resource?

OLB: My favorite part of SWE is the network of SWE members. SWE members often refer to their SWE friends as “SWEsters,” because in SWE, your network is more than just a list of business contacts. Your SWE network is made up of engineers with similar interests who will help you, guide you, and mentor you through anything that you encounter in school, in your career, or in your personal life. The support system that SWE provides cannot be matched by any other organization; my SWE network is made up of people that I am blessed to call my peers and my friends.

HQ: How has SWE helped to shape your career?

OLB: I credit SWE with giving me all of the opportunities that make me the engineer that I am today. I received my first internship opportunity at WE09 in Long Beach as a young engineering student. From this internship and the leadership skills I learned in SWE, I was able to secure full-time employment out of college with a great company. The leaders and mentors that I have been influenced by in SWE have given me the tools and the courage that make me successful in my job every day.

HQ: What first sparked your interest in engineering?

OLB: An outreach event put on by the Baton Rouge Professional section called “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.” Senior year in high school, I got to attend this event during E-week. Back then, I didn’t even know what E-week was, but it sounded interesting so I went. We learned about engineering and all of the disciplines from several local engineers, and then we had design competitions based around mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering principles. My team won the trebuchet competition, and I was hooked.

HQ: What prompted you to go into the field of engineering that you did?

OLB: My Biological Engineering professor, Dr. Marybeth Lima, freshman year. My major at the time was biological engineering, and I took my first design class with Dr. Lima. In addition to our playground design project, Dr. Lima assigned a research paper in which we were supposed to research the field of biological engineering and the sub-specialties in the field. The goal of the research project was to find how you individually fit into the field of biological engineering based on your personality, likes, strengths, and what type of opportunities would be available to you upon graduation. Halfway through the semester, my research showed me that my passion was not in biological engineering. Dr. Lima helped me to recognize that although I loved biology, biological engineering was not the right degree for me. So, I threw away my paper, started over again, and with her help, I found that chemical engineering would be a better fit for the type of work that I enjoy. And, I am glad that I did, because I truly enjoy what I do. It is amazing how through chemical engineering, one can use a bunch of pipes, some pressure, and a little heat to take a group of raw materials and turn them into an entirely different product that can be used all around the world in homes, cars, offices… anywhere.

HQ: What are some challenges and triumphs you’ve experienced, faced and overcome as a female engineer?

OLB: My experience as a female engineer has been wonderful. I have been very blessed to find mentors who were able to help me grow throughout my career and to work for a company like Olin that supports diversity in the workplace. I have been lucky to actually work in an organization with more female engineers than the industry average, however it is sometimes obvious that there are divisions between the male and female engineers. The division in my department started outside of the office though. My male counterparts were doing things together with our leader like golfing, hunting, and getting together after work for drinks or dinner, while the females were just going to lunch together once a month. After a while, I noticed that the after hour events were helping the male engineers develop more meaningful relationships with our leadership team, because they weren’t just talking about work, they were getting to know each other during these outings.

Then, in my one-on-one meetings with my boss he kept asking me, “How are you doing lately?” Now, I should have been happy that he was concerned about my well-being, but I could only think that if I had been invited to dinner or to play golf, he would already know how I was doing and wouldn’t need to ask. I knew that if I had the time outside of work to get to know my boss and my co-workers, then we could form a closer team and be more productive in the office. So, I tried something new; I learned to play golf, and when I mentioned it to my male co-workers, they invited me to play in a golf tournament with them. I had a great time, and I got to know my teammates a whole lot better. I found that, the more I spoke up and asked to join the group on various outings, the more invitations I received to participate. In the end, stereotypes were all that stood in my way, and all I had to do was show an interest in things I liked to do even though they might typically be things that men like to do.

HQ: How do you personally advocate for women engineers?

OLB: I believe that everything I do positively advocates for women engineers, through my professional and positive attitude, I am always advocating for female engineers. My favorite way to advocate for female engineers is through outreach, because I love to advocate STEM careers to the next generation of women. At the local middle school each year, we do engineering outreach projects during E-week, and I love to see the creativity and the new ideas that the students have. They surprise me every year with new designs that I had not even imagined, and I hope that I can influence each of them to become engineers one day.

HQ: What is your current and/or previous roles and responsibilities with SWE?

OLB: For FY16, I am serving as the Strategic Initiatives Committee Chair, a Senator, and a Leadership Coach. I have been involved with the Strategic Initiatives Committee for several years, and now I am leading the team. We are working on multiple initiatives including initiatives for Small Business Members, for Entrepreneur Members, and for Fully Leveraging Men as Diversity Partners.

The committee uses research and member feedback to advise the Senate on strategic ideas and solutions to support SWE’s mission. On the Senate this year, we are working to review the governance recommendations provided to the Society last year to determine the best strategic path forward for the Society as a whole.

As a senator, I get to participate in spirited debates and discussions throughout the year and at conference regarding the status, structure, and bylaws of the Society. It a very exciting time to be a Senator, and I am glad that I get to be a part of it.

As a Region C Leadership Coach I am able to connect personally with sections and work with them to help their sections and members grow as future leaders in the profession. Over the past few years, I have been able to travel to several schools in Louisiana and Texas to work with collegiates on communication, tactical planning, and professional development skills. I also get the opportunity to present at Leadership Summits and conferences, which is a lot of fun.

In the past, I have served as the Region Secretary, a Region Collegiate Representative, and a Section Leader at LSU. I enjoy holding different roles at the section, region, and society level, because I get to interact with different groups of people. My favorite role in SWE has been as a member of the Strategic Initiatives Committee. I know that the work we do on this committee and in SWE propels women in engineering forward, and I am proud to contribute to this effort.

HQ: What are you most excited about for 2016 as an engineer?

OLB: Each year I am excited to see the amazing new technologies and innovations that engineers all around the world create, like the Hyperloop for example. The breakthrough work going on in technology and medicine right now inspire me to use creativity and innovation to tackle my own work and everyday problems.

HQ: What are you most looking forward to at WE16?

OLB: I have already seen some great session ideas and proposals from fellow SWE members, so I am looking forward to attending as many sessions as I can to learn from my fellow engineers at WE16.

HQ: If you could give yourself one piece of advice to yourself when you first started your career, what would it be

OLB: Don’t ever shy away from hard tasks or difficult situations. These are the times in which you learn the most about yourself, and you will be much stronger both technically and emotionally when all is said and done.


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