Shannon Smith

Age: 23
Occupation: Quality Engineer
Resides: Hickory
Family: Husband Connor

Are you from Catawba County?
I was born in Missouri but then moved here at a young age so I've grown up here. I went to Hickory Christian Academy from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. I actually met my now-husband there and after attending college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, we moved back Catawba county.

What does your job involve?
There’s a lot of different aspects to my job. I work on documentation that includes PFMEAs and Control Plans. I also work with multidisciplinary teams to work through any issues on the floor and determine ways to prevent incidents from occurring a second time. On top of this, I work with our customers for several reason whether it be a new product launch or simply communicating a change that is occurring in our process.

You're going to have to help translate some of that for us. Are you testing components? Working with a lot of data? What does that look like?
We do testing on parts and complete trial runs in order to get a better idea of what is causing an issue and how we can work through it. For example, if we see issues at an assembly line, then maybe there's an error or fault in machining that needs to be investigated. We collect data on pieces coming off the machine to see if there's something out of tolerance. Every day, we have a material review board where all the quality engineers gather and present all the scrap from the previous day to the managers, go over the issues of the day and how we're working to fix them, and how we’re working to ensure the same issue doesn’t occur again.

When you say presenting the scrap, is that the component that wasn't produced correctly, or whatever error or abnormality you found?
Exactly. On a good production day there may not be something to report, but just getting an idea of what's going on in the plant is good for the managers so they’re aware of what's happening.

How do you get involved in investigating an abnormality? Does someone operating one of the machines notice something faulty, or do you routinely go and check?
It's a combination. An operator might notice something out of the norm, or if I'm walking around the plant and I see something I'll ask questions. I try to see if it is trending toward an issue we need to resolve before it becomes bigger. We also work with manufacturing engineers, maintenance and quality techs to see what we can do to fix a problem before one occurs.

What does a typical day look like for you?
Usually I'm out on the plant floor. I like to be around the machines seeing what's going on so that way I don't have to ask as many questions when I come in the next day. I know what happened as it happened. I spend time talking to my operators, because they're the ones seeing everything every single day and they have an insight into what's going on. The occasional meetings with other plants or customers or suppliers also take place, but it is not the bulk of my time.

What do you like best about what you do?
I really enjoy my coworkers. They're all extremely supportive, and they're always willing to lend a helping hand if I need it. I also like the challenges that each day presents. There's no set schedule of what's going to happen. Something can always come up, so it keeps you on your toes and keeps your mind going. Being challenged every day has been really rewarding, as well as overcoming the challenges and seeing the outcome.

What do you like about working in this environment?
It always presents me with new challenges. I had to get used to the safety glasses and steel-toed boots; that was a big change from my tennis shoes in college. But it's fun. Getting to interact with all the operators and my coworkers and seeing everyone working together is rewarding. I love it, definitely.

How did you get into this line of work? What sparked your interest?
Growing up I always loved being hands-on and fixing things, especially with my dad. I really loved math. Calculus is my favorite subject. Going into college, I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do with a math major, so I thought, "I'll just go into engineering." Turned out, I loved it. My high school didn't offer any engineering-related courses at that time. I didn't get exposed to any of that until I went to college, and that really got me thinking, "This is what I want to do, this is what I really enjoy."

Somebody from my high school told me about an opening for an internship here at ZF, which was great because it was right near my house. After my freshman year, I started working here every summer and every winter break until I graduated, and then I stepped into a full-time role.

Was it intimidating coming in here as a college freshman?
It was definitely a little scary. Engineering is a very male-dominant career, and I got a taste of that during my first year of college. Coming in to this plant, I was already prepared for that. It was about getting hands-on work, and everyone here was willing to support me and walk me through what I'd be doing.

Do you think the opportunity to do the internship through college helped you in terms of your academic approach to things?
I would definitely say that. We took a class that focused on manufacturing my sophomore year. Being in this environment the summer before that really helped me understand. I'm a big visual learner, so when the professor would say something, I’d remember seeing it at ZF. It was really easy to correlate between the two, so that was very helpful in my college career.

What made you decide to stay in Hickory when you graduated?
The small-town feel is what ultimately drew me back to Hickory. Also, my family lives here and I'm a very family-oriented person. My husband, who I actually married right after college, also got a job in Hickory so it all worked out. I have worked with the same boss since I was an intern. When he said there was an opening, I was really excited to apply for it and see where it would take me.

What's your life like outside of work? You're newly married, living close to downtown Hickory. What do you two like to do for fun?
The farmer's market on Saturday morning, that's my favorite place to go because of all the fresh produce they have. Besides that, my husband and I love to go hiking on nearby mountains and of course, cheering on our Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. Also, some of our friends from high school still live in the area, and we'll go the Station or the Tap Room to spend time catching up. Sometimes we enjoy getting coffee in the morning at Taste Full Beans downtown. Being really close to downtown is nice. It's a fun area, it's definitely developing and becoming a really cool place to hang out and spend time with friends and family.

That's great. Having gone to school here, I'm sure you had a lot of friends who said, “I'm never going to live in Hickory, I'm not going to stay here, I'm going to move away." You've pursued an amazing degree. You have landed this great job here. What would you say to them now about what your life is like?
I was actually one of those people when I was younger who said, “I don't want to be back here." Now that I’ve grown up, this feels like a very home-oriented place. I always tell my parents and sister that no matter where I go, Hickory will always feel like home. Between different events happening downtown, the local theaters and various restaurants in the area there is always something to do. The welcoming feeling in Hickory is something I really enjoy. It's hard not to enjoy life here.

You have a degree in mechanical engineering. What advice would you have for a young girl who's thinking about a more technical career?
My first piece of advice would be to never let yourself be intimated by any aspect of a technical career. Like I said, going into my freshman year I was intimidated being in a male-dominant major, but it just made me dig my heels in deeper to show that I can be here, too, and I can do this just as well as they can. No matter what, keep persevering. Constantly remind yourself why you picked this career path and why you picked your major and focus on that as your roots for continuing to grow.

Where do you see yourself five or ten years from now?
I see myself growing our family with my husband and continuing in an engineering career. I don't know if it'd be here or somewhere else, because there are a lot of opportunities in Hickory for this kind of degree. I see myself continuing what I'm doing now and growing my experience and my knowledge. I always like learning new things, and working here has been really helpful in growing and seeking new challenges.

If you were talking to someone thinking about coming to this community and making a life, what would you tell them?
I would say that Hickory, and Catawba County in general, is growing by leaps and bounds. Downtown has grown so much in just the past few years that I don't see it stopping anytime soon, so to be a part of that and to see it grow is incredible. I think anybody that has a chance to be a part of it should be.


Interviewed on July 18, 2019