Stephanie Wernet (BS EE ’88) considers herself a better talker than an engineer.
"I was always the one giving demonstrations," she said. "I was the one doling out the work in the lab and reporting back to our manager. I was definitely better at that than the truly 'geeky' work. I thought of myself as an interpreter who could speak geek to the suits."
She was already a Michigan Engineering student when she had her first inkling that she might nor be a techie, through and through. "One of my best friends would do semiconductor problems while watching the Glamorous Ladies Of Wrestling," she recalled with amusement. "I was surrounded by genius engineers and I wasn't in their league. But there were sit-down dinners every night at Martha Cook, where I got to hear about what was going on in dentistry and library science." (Martha Cook is a University of Michigan residence hall for female students.) "That made the whole college experience richer for me."
Wernet's comfort with a balance between the arts and technology dates back to her childhood. "When I'd go say goodnight to my parents, my mother was usually reading a British novel. My father, an electrical engineer himself, would be reading a resistor catalog or component spec sheet."
Her expansive worldview would eventually serve her well along a career path that, early on, took her through IBM and General Motors. In 1993, after getting her MBA at Stanford, she moved into the position of engagement manager with McKinsey & Company. Four years later, she joined Reynolds and Reynolds to become senior director of eCommerce. That experience led her to a position as vice president of eCommerce at EyeVelocity, a developer of visual personalization technology.
Her career took its most notable turn when she joined Goodyear in 2001 as director of eBusiness for the company's North American Tire business unit.
In 2003, when a downturn in business made her department a luxury, she proved that engineers know how to solve problems. "I volunteered for anything," she said. "First I ran the customer service call center. Then I was vice president, Information Technology, and the chief information officer." In fact, she was the youngest CIO in the company's history.
Today, Werner is vice president of eCommerce for Goodyear, doing what she enjoys most - taking on challenges that others consider too difficult.
"Anytime I tackled something considered hard-to-impossible, nine times out of ten, I pulled it off," she said. "That's always a great rush."
As a member of the Michigan Engineering Advisory Council, Werner has thrown herself into the task of charting the future course of the College. And with her help, Goodyear is assisting Michigan Engineering's Solar Car Team, working with the ream on technical and logistical issues.
On the home front, she and her husband Mark, a NASA engineer who conducts research in nanofabrication, spend a lot of time with their children, Sandra and Johnny, who already appears to be heading for an engineering career. "He just got a fish tank for his third birthday," Werner said, "and he tried to take off the lid to figure our how the light works."
Life for Wernet is much as it was while she was a Michigan Engineering student - a balancing act - however, rather than a search for the right proportions of the arts and technology, her quest is for a good mix of work, family, and occasional moments for herself. In looking for that balance, she's come to the conclusion that being an engineer is "a great foundation for a lot of things in life - pursuing business, medicine or reaching. And we all have to fix our home PCs, network our Tivos and plan our finances for retirement using probability. To some degree, don't we all need to be engineers?"
Originally printed in the Fall 2008 Michigan Engineer, by Debbie Feit