Jill Steffek works for Oshkosh Corporation in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She has a bachelor’s degree in Materials Science & Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, and a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Here’s her story in her own words.
I grew up in a very small down in Southwest Wisconsin. My high school did not have a wide variety of classes and offered no exposure to engineering classes. However, I had one physics teacher who encouraged me to look at engineering as a career option.
When I started college, I didn’t even know what Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) was. I was debating between Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, but my first exposure to MSE got me hooked. Everything in our world is made of materials so I was fascinated with the endless possibilities of potential jobs using MSE in my future.
I attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison and graduated in 2006 with a B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering. During college I had a co-op at Oshkosh Corporation in the Materials and Process Engineering department. I spent a total of nine months at Oshkosh Corporation, and it was there where I truly felt that I had made the right decision on which engineering discipline to study. I was mentored by a great group of engineers who showed me the link between academia and application in the real world. My job consisted of conducting failure analysis on a wide variety of vehicle components. It was a perfect blend of hands-on lab work and report writing.
After college I took a job as a Materials Engineer at John Deere Engine Works in Waterloo, Iowa. At John Deere, I was the primary engineer on the engine crankshaft line, responsible for setting up and calibrating the induction heat treatment machine. This job was also a blend of hands-on lab and manufacturing support and report writing.
I had maintained contact with the engineers at Oshkosh Corporation as they had become some of the greatest mentors in my career. When they had a job become available, I gladly accepted and moved back to Wisconsin in 2007. Oshkosh Corporation is a highly innovative engineering company, and I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of products and materials. Much of my career has been spent conducting failure analysis. Early in my career, I was exposed to work on multiple materials: metallics, welds, paints and coatings, polymers and elastomers, and composite structures. Eventually I decided that polymers, elastomers, and composites interested me the most. As the need increased to make vehicles more lightweight, have better corrosion resistance, and increased ballistic protection, Oshkosh was using and learning more about non-metallic materials, and I was able to work on some very interesting research & development projects.
One of the great things about a career doing failure analysis is that there is a large range of complexity in the problems. An entry level co-op can be challenged with a simple failure and a seasoned engineer can be stumped when they see a failure situation that they had never seen before. After ten years at Oshkosh Corporation, I moved into a new role, managing the Finite Element Analysis team. My team does a lot of work to virtually predict failures before they happen but also does work to virtually study failures after they occur.
During much of my career I have been involved in the Society of Women Engineers, serving in the local Wisconsin Section as Outreach Chair for several years and as President for two years. Oshkosh Corporation has an active science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) team that I am involved with as well. I enjoy talking to young students; especially young girls and women, about careers in STEM. I was fortunate to have that one teacher, who initially told me about engineering, propel me into the career that I have had, and I hope that by showing kids how fun and exciting my career has been, I will inspire others into a career they love, too!