Career Profile Jennifer E. Goforth

March 17, 2009
This General Motors engineer helps run a pilot program to retrain displaced engineers in advanced propulsion.

The Rundown
Name: Jennifer E. Goforth
Title: Design Release Engineer - Hybrid Energy Storage System Wiring
Organization: General Motors Corp., Warren, Mich.
Education: BS Mechanical Engineering(Marquette University); MS Engineering (Purdue)
Recently read book:Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Bully Pulput, by James M. Stock
Hobbies: Yoga, gardening, scuba diving, golfing, playing piano

The job market for engineers is pretty tough in Detroit. How are you trying to help that situation? GM came up with the idea of retraining laid-off engineers in advanced-propulsion areas where there is a demand for skills. I am leading a team that runs a free class in hybrid and electric-vehicle development. We accepted 60 engineers in the pilot program. There is a larger group working on expanding this program into something more sustainable that can be extended to more people. I am very proud of this effort.

I believe it is important to find ways to contribute to society. I’ve been involved in the Society of Automotive Engineer’s A World In Motion program for six years. I volunteer at Maybury Elementary and teach students about the engineering design process. Students can work in teams designing, building, and validating their own vehicles. We build projects such as balloon-powered cars, gliders, and motorized toy cars. It is a great way to give back.

What do you feel are the traits and habits that allow you to excel in engineering? In addition to a strong technical background, organization and communication skills are crucial. While those are all important skills, I believe essential traits are the ability to lead and being a person of character.

At GM, what kind of products and technologies does your team work on? Broadly speaking, my team is responsible for the design, integration, and validation of the battery (energy-storage system) for a future plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle.

What is your typical work day like? The vehicle I am working on launches in 2011, so we are early in the design process. I work closely with five people. The extended team is about 30, comprised of engineers at GM and other integrated companies. The design is very fluid, so we have several design reviews throughout the week to review the changes with all stakeholders. We study the design integration and look for new innovations, then I apply the learnings to the main stream design. As the program moves forward in the development cycle, I’ll ensure parts are delivered on time and meet all design and validation requirements. I will need to revise the design to resolve any issues that arise during the integration, preproduction and production builds. I’ll continue to support the design and product through the launch and start of production.

What tasks as part of your job do you most like to do? I get a great deal of satisfaction during the product launch. I really enjoy seeing the parts I design successfully go together. There is a thrill of seeing the vehicle come together and starting at the end of the line.

What do you least like to do? The change management paperwork is definitely the part I like least about my job, but I understand it is necessary part of my work.

Biggest technical challenge, so far: I recently accepted a role releasing electrical components for a cutting-edge technology. Although challenging, it is equally rewarding because I am learning every day. And I know the choices I make on this product will lead future engineering decisions on next GM product.

Best career decision: After learning the Mercury Performance Craft division was closing, I did an extensive job search. I had 14 interviews and 13 offers. All the positions were interesting, but I turned them all down because I really wanted to work for the Saturn Corp. (division of GM). While at Saturn I worked as an advanced-manufacturing engineer creating the assembly process for a vehicle designed in Germany and built in Delaware. It was a tremendous opportunity to gain international experience on one of GM’s first global programs.

Worst career decision: Turning down the offer to remain at Opel for three more years working on the next-generation global platform.

What things attracted you to an engineering career? I’ve always enjoyed math, science, and solving problems. As a junior in high school, I took a drafting course and learned a new way to look at objects. The course helped me understand how parts worked so I could redesign them and make them better. The course helped me learn how I could apply my skills for the betterment of society.

Did you ever consider a career outside engineering? Yes, in music. I love playing the piano.

What would you tell a young person who approached you for career advice about pursuing engineering? Engineering is a great career choice. It is not easy; you will need to work hard to be successful. However, there is satisfaction in knowing your decisions are making the world a better place — process by process, part by part. The skills you learn are also transferable as you advance in your career, move between industries, or choose management.

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