Adrienne Billiau was never intimidated by the overwhelming majority of male engineers, especially in the automotive industry. She chose to simply use her talent and do what she enjoyed. She studied electrical engineering in school and now, at 24, works with General Motors on their Hybrid vehicles. GL spoke with her about her unique field and what it’s like to be a female engineer.
Why did you decide to go into the field of engineering?
In high school I really liked math classes so between that and liking to play around on computer, it just seemed like the right choice for me at the time. I didn’t know automotive was the field I’d get into right away but once I started my co-op, it really helped me hone in on where I wanted to be.
You worked with the hybrid battery. Tell us what exactly you did there?
I had an internship in the battery lab with cooperative education (co-op) with GM. We did all the testing on hybrid batteries for regular hybrid batteries as well as the Volt, which is the extended range electric car, and we also worked on future developments for programs coming down the pipeline. As an engineer we’ll get requests in from development telling us what tests we need to do to verify that the batteries we’re receiving are performing as well as we’d expect them to. We’re running different tests all the time. You’re never really doing the same thing every day, but once your tests are complete then we compile reports.
What was the ratio of men to women while you were studying and now at work?
It was 80- to 85-percent male. Statistically, it was slim, but it wasn’t like you’re the only girl in the classroom. At work, my manager is female as well, and other than that there’s just one other female.
Now that you work at GM, how is your role their different from your co-op work?
I do vehicle validation for the volt. My new role is I’m in charge of validating anything electrical on the vehicle, not just the battery. Originally I was focused on the battery only, now I’m on the vehicle level. I’m in charge of coordinating the physical testing, I’m not the one doing that work.
What are you hoping to accomplish in the future?
Ideally a goal of mine would be to take a managerial approach more so than a technical approach. That’s what I would like to do but obviously I have to earn that position. I’d like to continue working with the hybrid, but you can’t really predict the future or where you’re career is going to go 100 percent.
Your focus is the hybrid car. What are your hopes for that?
I think the hybrid will definitely catch on and that’s why I like working on it so much cause it is the future of the vehicle. Right now gas prices in Michigan are around $4 and who knows where they’re going to be down the road. If you can charge the Volt for just over a dollar a day, you’re saving a huge chunk of money. People will start gravitating towards that when the price of the battery goes down.
What advice do you have for girls interested in entering a male-dominated field like engineering?
I never put to much thought into it being a male-dominated field in school, because if you have the skills and you want to do this type of degree or position, I think of everyone as equal. You just put that aside and don’t think too much about. People are people and gender doesn’t really play a role in whom you’re working with. You go to school and you work with the people you need to work with and make friends with the people you want to make friends with.
Is engineering something more women should consider?
As long as the interest is there and you like math and you’ve done your research in engineering and it does sound like something you’re interested in, then it’s definitely worth pursuing. Engineering in general has such a wide range of jobs. You could do two totally different jobs with the same degree.
BY JILLIAN ZACCHIA ON 7/8/2011 1:00:00 PM
POSTED IN Get Inspired, Dream Job