Alumnae Voices: On and Off the Beaten Path
Featured Alumna: Kristen Morrow Johnson, D'92, Th'94


February 21, 2005

In this issue of Alumnae Voices we are pleased present an interview with Kristen Morrow Johnson, D92, Thayer MEM 94. After graduation, Kristen found a good fit for her engineering, leadership and organizational skills at Ford Motor Company and has been employed there for 10 years. Her assignments have taken her to Kentucky, Minnesota, England, Germany, and all over Michigan, Ford's home state. Since the birth of Kristen's and her husband's son Owen in 2003, she is job-sharing a supervisor position in the Advanced Product Strategy Group. Here she shares some of her experiences and advice with WISP enjoy!

Discovering Science

Q. When did science first spark your interest?
A. I had a great science teacher in high school. I told her I wanted
to be a science teacher and she recommended I look at
engineering. She gave me a few pamphlets on summer
programs for women interested in engineering. I went to a SWE
(Society of Women Engineers) program for one week the
summer after my junior year of high school. The other students
I met were normal and the projects that we did were really
interesting. It convinced me that engineering sounded like a
good idea.

Educational Background - The College Years

Q. What were your academic major(s)/minor(s) in college? How did you decide what to focus on?
A. I was an engineering science major. I was close to double-majoring in Studio Art also but decided that would really restrict
the number of non-major courses I could take. Engineering is
consuming enough and I wanted to take advantage of the liberal
arts parts of Dartmouth.

Q. What science-related activities did you participate in, if any? Were they important and why?
A. I was the president of SWE for a few years. For me that was a continuation of the positive experience I had had at the summer program. I also got to speak to some local middle school children at career fairs and was involved with the early WISP programs. I always felt good about sharing my experiences, because I think it helped others and also made me realize that I really did know something!

The Next Steps - Out Into The Real World

Q. During college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after graduation?
A. Not really. I think my summer internships helped me realize the jobs I did not want, and that was valuable as well. Since I really liked the project portion of the engineering classes and enjoyed studio art, I finally concluded that some sort of product design job would suit me well.

Q. How did you decide what to do after college?
What were your goals, etc.?

A. In fairness, I did not have any real 5-year or beyond plans. I started applying to consumer product design firms. I looked at lots of toy companies, Disney and then got lucky to find an internship at
Ford Motor Company. I did two summer internships at Ford and then accepted their full time offer. I have been here over 10 years.

Today - Developing Careers

Q. Are you still involved in the sciences?
In what ways? If not, why not?

A. I have spent about 5 years of my 10 at Ford in real engineering product design work. Over the last year or so, I have moved into product strategy because that area at Ford gives you a better
chance at work/life balance. I work part time/job share now and think that would be difficult to do effectively in an intense engineering role.

Q. How does your college career impact what you currently do?
A. I feel the engineering/business background from the MEM and Dartmouth allowed me to be an engineer for a while but also to transition to the business side smoothly. I also think all the presenting we did on ENGS projects gave me a lot more confidence to do presentations for my management now. The ability to get your ideas across succinctly and convincingly is very important in the business world especially among engineers who are usually not known for that.

Q. Are there any parts of your job that you find less fulfilling?
A. I miss the day to day personal responsibility for "your design" that comes with engineering work and I do not enjoy writing and re-writing management presentations.

Finding A Balance

Q. How have you dealt with balancing work and family - have you had to adjust your schedule or look for a job that is more flexible?
A. The move to part-time work [she currently works in a job share arrangement with a co-worker at Ford] happened because I wanted to spend more time with my son. This lets me run errands and
do laundry during the week so, we can enjoy the weekends. I am not ready to give up work altogether because although my son is cute, conversations with a 1 year old are not as stimulating as those at work. The balance of both should help keep me sane, I hope!

Q. What else do you do outside of your work?
A. Before I had my son, I played on ice hockey and soccer teams in the local area. Now it is a little harder to do that, but we still try to get out for some exercise and travel as much as we can.

Helpful Resources Along The Way

Q. Did you have any mentors that encouraged you or any individuals that discouraged you? If so, please describe the relationship and how it influenced your career path.
A. Professor Kennedy at the Thayer School was great about making sure I took engineering one semester at a time and did not let it overwhelm me. Carol Muller and Mary Pavone also got me thinking about women in engineering in the larger context and how I fit into that picture. At Ford, I have tried to stay in contact with managers and colleagues over the years. I always seem to run into people again and all of the career moves I have made have been found through personal
recommendations.

Tending To Your Emotional And Spiritual Well-Being

Q. Did you ever doubt your capabilities and/or knowledge in your major/career?
A. Absolutely. I spent lots of time at math, physics and engineering tutorials. I watched friends with higher grade point averages drop out of engineering because they thought they were not good enough. That made me nervous. Somehow, knowing that I was capable of learning the work at my internships and the encouragement of family and professors, kept me plugging along at it. Even today at Ford, there are plenty of areas I don't understand. My policy is to admit when I don't know something and seek out the technical experts for help. I have found that people appreciate that honesty and are more willing to take your direction when you don't pretend to know it all.

Advice To Share

Q. What advice do you have for current students who may be interested in the sciences?
A. Go to SWE, WISP, and other science presentations to find out what it means to be in your field after college. Find some summer internships and seek out professionals in areas that you think interest you. Don't let the intense math and science, difficult tests and less than optimal grades (many of us have perfectionist tendencies in us) overwhelm you. If you are at Dartmouth, you are smart enough to do any job you want to do. Don't lose sight of that and for goodness’ sake, enjoy college! Play Frisbee on the green, float in the river, see shows at Collis, hike with the DOC, etc. Getting up at 6am every day for work is no picnic, so you want to take advantage of Dartmouth while you still can!



Have questions or want to know more? You can contact her via e-mail (kjohns64@ford.com). Take advantage of wonderful Dartmouth resources such as successful alumni who have been through it and are there to help!

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