Brandon Jewell with the Career Technical Education Foundation Sonoma County moderated a panel discussion at 180 Studios in Santa Rosa during the second annual Sonoma County Manufacturing Day on Oct. 19. Panelists were Megan Dellavalle of Medtronic, Juan Alvarez of Viavi Solutions, Ian Serrano of Straus Family Creamery and Sean Winchester of Endologix.
Panelists were asked to respond to questions about their educational backgrounds and if a four-year degree was necessary for success, how they entered the manufacturing world, what they like most about their jobs, as well as the biggest challenge they faced during their careers.
MEGAN DELLAVALLE, MEDTRONIC: While in high school I met someone who worked with a medical MRI machine and shadowed her on the job. I also had college internships, including one at Medtronic. I’m now also involved with WISE, Women In Science and Engineering, to help other women advance in various technology areas.
In my position, I make a big impact on people’s lives, and my unit supports a number of worldwide bio-units. Back in high school, engineering involved a lot of math, which was not my best subject, since I was a biology and liberal arts student. But I wanted to enter this field. I struggled, got extra help, and put out a lot of effort. I love what I do. Sure, there will be obstacles, but you have to stick with it.
As a woman, I’ve been fortunate in the STEM field. In my BME (bachelor of biomedical engineering) degree program, there were more women than men. The same was true in my internship group at Medtronic. There are organizations that can support you, such as the Society of Women Engineers.
Whether or not to earn a four-year college degree depends on what you want – what works for you. For production floor, tech positions and some project-management jobs, a high school diploma may be all that is required. For engineering and advanced positions, you will need a four-year degree.
Do I use everything I learned in college? No. But critical thinking skills are vital. The key is determining what you need to know, learning how to get that knowledge and plotting a course for your future, while also having the drive and initiative to take you there.
SEAN WINCHESTER, ENDOLOGIX: I would approach those working in laboratory jobs that I found interesting, such as at UC Irvine, and ask them if I could have a chance to work with them as an intern – with or without pay. I asked another professor the same question at NYU and got the job.
I was a materials science major, but wanted to enter the bio-medical engineering field. I felt that the chemical and bio areas I had been studying were not close enough of a match, since I wanted to be part of the medical device industry. I had to be open to growing and flexible to change my course of study to match the job I wanted.
The biggest reward I receive from my career is the knowledge that I am helping patients have a better quality of life. I earned a university degree and am now working with stem cells in a polymer matrix. Like Megan Dellavalle, I don’t use everything I learned in college. But having an engineering degree shows employers that you have the ability to learn what you need to know in a relatively short time.