Recent Rice University alumna Anna Jorgensen ’21 had been working about a month when two senior leaders invited her to a meeting. Although the email request had taken a circuitous route and did not reach her desk until 15 minutes before the scheduled meeting, Jorgensen felt calm.
“The day before I met the executives, I had given my manager a status update,” she Jorgensen, who earned her bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at Rice. “I had been working on Excel docs so full of detail they were illegible to an outsider, so I had already put together a summary and pie chart to show my manager the materials breakdown.
“When the senior leaders arrived that morning, I was able to pull out my summary page in the meeting, explain all I had been doing, and demonstrate the progress I’d made in a multi-week project. Presenting that at a moment’s notice was very empowering for me. I don’t think I could have done it without the preparation I’d had at Rice.”
Jorgensen first learned the power of a clear presentation in her freshman design class, ENGI 120. She was captivated by the design process where students had the chance to develop a solution from ideation to prototype. The course also required her team to describe their problem and demonstrate their proposed solution to an audience, so they took advantage of presentation coaching offered by the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership.
“Within a few years, I was a peer presentation coach myself,” said Jorgensen. “After spending a summer in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), I had the opportunity to work as an ENGI 120 design mentor as a sophomore. By junior year, I was very familiar with the class and its structure, and I also knew what the slides and presentation flow should look like. Part of my work as a presentation coach meant helping the new students recognize where jargon would break down for audiences outside their immediate team, as well as how to more clearly communicate their message.”
Between presentations for her own courses and mentoring student presenters in other courses, Jorgensen had multiple opportunities to hone her speaking skills. She credits her Rice engineering experience for her professional demeanor, but she still prefers doing to talking. And like most engineers, she is passionate about her product.
“At GE Healthcare, I have the chance to use my engineering design knowledge to produce solutions for a really good goal: medical imaging technology. Of course it’s thrilling to be working under the hood of an MR machine or CT scanner, but contributing my part to make the whole imaging and treatment system work better is even more satisfying,” said Jorgensen.
“My current projects involve coordinating with GE suppliers on components that go into our systems. In some cases, I might be asking a supplier to change a part they use to better meet our specification set. That means doing calculations for the dimensions and the center of mass and gravity, and then potentially designing the parts to ensure they are compatible with all the existing components of the CT scanner. So I am making drawings, interacting with manufacturers, asking for and reviewing quotes, and I just put in my first large purchase order. It’s all pretty exciting.”
A typical week will see Jorgensen working on multiple projects simultaneously, with different endpoints for each project. Her assignment leader, a senior engineer who is coaching her through this first of four six-month rotations, meets with her one on one but also steps back to give Jorgensen full autonomy for the bulk of her work. As evidenced in the recent meeting with upper management, Jorgensen relies on her communication skills every day to bring her projects to fruition.
She said, “GE operates a lot in Teams, both for meetings and messaging. We also rely on email, especially with global suppliers and manufacturers. We have to be able to write a very clear email with lots of technical information packed into it, and that has made me consider when to use paragraphs versus a concise list.
“For example, when you say, 'Here are the criteria,’ you don’t want any details lost in a long paragraph. Use bullet points.”
Show and tell is not just for children. Jorgensen said when the work includes calculations or potential design adjustments, she makes the changes in the CAD models and then walks the suppliers through the changes using a short slide deck.
“We are more likely to get what we need if I take the time to show the people making the changes what those changes look like in the model, then point out their corresponding impact on our specifications and how well they are being met,” said Jorgensen.
“It is rewarding to own my project and to drive it forward, especially when customers are asking for it. At the end of this rotation, my product will go into delivery. Working through all the drawings and quotes and getting everything done in six months keeps me motivated. I love how it all comes together in the end. That’s very satisfying for an engineer.”
This article was originally published for the ACTIVATE Engineering Communication program