BSc Mechanical Engineering
Specialization in Biomedical Engineering
Schulich School of Engineering
University of Calgary
Where is she now?
Supply Chain Leader, Frito Lay Canada, a division of PepsiCo Canada, Lethbridge
Engineer in Training, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta
Schulich alumna's internship 'opened up a world of opportunities'
Jessica Norman never expected to be managing a team of 20 in her first job out of university. The June after she graduated from UCalgary’s Schulich School of Engineering, she moved to Lethbridge for a job as a supply chain leader for PepsiCo Canada. “There’s never a dull moment,” she says of the Frito Lay chip plant which runs 24/7 and where her team of welders, millwrights, electricians, inventory specialists and a maintenance planner work on preventative and corrective maintenance for lines that produce corn tortilla chips, puffs and other products.
“I’m still on-boarding, but my job as the leader of the team is to make sure we have everything we need to keep things working properly, to assess problems and determine what we need to find solutions for, and then a lot of the actual problem-solving will be working with the team,” Norman says. “In terms of my mechanical engineering degree, I find I’ve be using a lot of the terminology and understanding of equipment and automation, and applying it all to assess different situations.”
As a Schulich student, the Kamloops B.C.-raised Norman balanced her life between mechanical and biomedical engineering studies, and community service. Her volunteer efforts earned her a community service scholarship, the Seymour Schulich Scholarship. “The idea is if you've done service in high school, that you'll continue to serve in university,” she says. In Calgary, she got involved with organizations like UCalgary’s JointEffort, where she volunteered to help people with hip and knee osteoarthritis, and she became president of the Schulich Biomedical Engineering Students' Society.
In her fourth year of studies, following a four-month stint as a co-op student in biomedical engineering at the Interior Health Authority in Kelowna, B.C., Norman decided to look for more mechanical engineering experience. That’s how she ended up as a supply chain intern at a PepsiCo bottling plant in Winnipeg. She says that eight-month internship “opened up a world of opportunities,” including her current job.
Even though her work at PepsiCo is more in the mechanical engineering realm, in her spare time, Norman has continued with a project that began as her biomedical engineering thesis. She is working with Dr. Noreen Kamal, PhD, an adjunct associate professor in the department of clinical neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, on a study evaluating the accuracy of sensors that could assist with stroke patient recovery. “I’m doing it because I love it. It’s fun,” says Norman. “It sounds like work, but it’s more like a hobby.” Dr. Kamal will present the research at the World Stroke Congress in Montreal this fall and they are working toward publication.
At work, Norman’s goal is to one day become a business unit engineer or be at the plant director level. To that end, she’s involved with PepsiCo’s Women Inclusion Network. “It's a super-supportive network of women who are in leadership roles and we go for coffee. It's a chance to get some mentorship from managers and senior directors. There's never any question of whether or not I have people around me that will support me,” says Norman. “It still blows my mind every day that I just graduated and I’m able to do all the cool stuff I do. I feel extremely lucky.”
In terms of my mechanical engineering degree, I find I’ve be using a lot of the terminology and understanding of equipment and automation, and applying it all to assess different situations.
How did UCalgary’s Schulich School of Engineering prepare you to be an engineer?
After my eight-month internship with PepsiCo in Winnipeg, I came back for my last year of school and found school even more engaging. A big part of that was my capstone design project. I was working with Dr. Craig Johansen, PhD, associate professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at Schulich School of Engineering, on a cooling and heating system for a hybrid rocket, which was super fun. I knew nothing about rockets before I started. I think once you’ve worked and then you go back to school, you can actually see the application of what you are doing. It gets you motivated and it made me realize that everything I was learning was something that I really needed to know for my job.
What were your Schulich School of Engineering highlights?
The highlight of my last year of university was my biomedical engineering thesis. My project was to determine if accelerometer devices – imagine kind of a Fitbit that goes around your ankle – would be able to capture data accurately for stroke patients. This device would basically be a really simple and easy at-home way for stroke patients to be able to measure improvement in a quantifiable way. They can see for themselves, ‘Okay, when I do my exercises, I'm actually getting better.’
Who were your UCalgary mentors?
I worked on my biomedical engineering thesis with Dr. Noreen Kamal, PhD, adjunct associate professor in the department of clinical neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a phenomenal mentor. She really empowered me.
What is your advice for new engineering students?
In my last year, I was doing my senior capstone design project and my thesis at the same time. It was stressful, but instead of procrastinating, which I think is every student’s greatest enemy, I just focused on what I had to do and I got it done. One strategy that I used was to try and get all my tasks for the day – everything academic that I possibly could – done by 6 p.m. Then I’d say, ‘Okay. Stop. That's it.’ It helped me to just focus. The other thing is I started going to the gym more, which sounds kind of counter-intuitive, and I always thought I didn't have time, but it's so important.
What is your life beyond engineering?
I love living in Lethbridge. I think part of it is that I'm from Kamloops, which is the same size - about 90,000 people. And, I think a lot of it is that there are a lot of young professionals here, like the people that I work with. It's really a fun group that likes doing things together. There are trails for running, good food, people that are cool, and that’s pretty much all I need. So, I’m set.
What does it mean to you to be an engineer?
Engineering teaches you how to learn new things. I have been trained for the last five years to either be able to figure something out or to just learn how to learn. I genuinely feel like I have this toolbox of things that I know that I can apply to things that I don't know – and that is so much fun.