Mariella Corcuera may ultimately pursue a career in medicine or medical devices, but she'll always be an engineer at heart. Through Pratt's Master of Engineering Management Program at Duke, Corcuera got the chance to experience the life of a corporate engineer as a Textron Fellow.
In 2004, Textron, a $10 billion dollar multi-industry company, established a Textron Fellowship for Duke graduate women and minorities interested in engineering management. Textron offers the fellows both tuition and a paid internship at one of their many businesses.
Corcuera, from Bradenton, FL, is the first Fellow of the program and spent her internship at Textron's division E-Z-GO headquartered in Augusta, GA, an area famed for PGA golfing. Not surprisingly, E-Z-GO is the world's largest manufacturer of vehicles for golf courses, resort communities and municipalities, as well as commercial and industrial users such as airports and factories.
"One of the reasons I went to E-Z-GO was to work with Vice President of Engineering Susan Rutt," said Corcuera. Textron hopes through its fellowship programs, such as the one at Duke, and its diversity initiatives to attract more women and minority professionals like Susan Rutt and newcomers to the field like Mariella Corcuera.
"Including me and Susan Rutt, there was one other female engineer at E-Z-GO, but that didn't seem to bother Susan at all. I observed how she carried herself during meetings, and I was so impressed with how good she was at listening to people and delegating. She was obviously respected and a strong leader. It didn't faze her at all to be a woman in charge of essentially an all male team."
Working with her supervisor, quality engineer Mike Smith, Corcuera's task was to help implement a pilot management process called New Product and Service Introduction (NP&SI), developed through the Textron Six Sigma process. NP&SI is an online workflow project management database that establishes project milestones and checklists, stores project documentation and requires key management signoffs before moving to the next step.
"My job was to educate people on the merits of NP&SI and get them to use it," said Corcuera. "People came on board quickly because they could see the value of having such structure and organization."
At the end of 10 weeks, Corcuera presented the pilot project of NP&SI to E-Z-GO's executive leadership team. "They were amazed at the depth of project documentation we had collected, and how well the system worked," continued Corcuera. "Mariella did an outstanding job of designing and implementing the NP&SI process that is used consistently at E-Z-GO," said Susan Rutt, E-Z-GO's VP of Engineering. "Mariella has a bright future ahead of her. She will be a true asset to the field she ultimately decides to pursue."
"It was a great experience working there, and I felt very welcomed,"said Corcuera. It also whetted her appetite for more engineering-related experiences.
Corcuera originally went into engineering because she was interested in medical devices. She majored in electrical engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa Bay. A native of Lima, Peru who subsequently grew up in Canada, Corcuera was a member of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, the Eta Kappa Nu electrical engineering honor society and the university's Robotics Club. As a junior, she had the opportunity to take part in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at Boston University where she worked on cardiac defibrillators.
After she graduated, Corcuera ultimately turned down a full ride doctoral scholarship to the University of South Florida in order to pursue a master of engineering management degree at Duke.
"What I liked about Duke's program is how law, business and engineering are integrated," Corcuera explains. "Most other engineering management programs I looked into focused only on industrial engineering courses. I'm interested in becoming business savvy, but don't want to wade through a full MBA program."
She's also a big fan of the requirement to do a work internship before beginning the classes. "The experience helps us relate to the skills and techniques that we later learn about in our courses."
As for her future plans, she has not yet decided whether to go directly into industry for a while and perhaps work on medical devices or instruments, or to attend medical school or a biomedical engineering PhD program. "Right now, I'm leaning towards working in industry for one to two years and then deciding about graduate school," she said.