Patricia Adams Lecture Series: A student perspective

Oct 4, 2013

Lauren Ash, a senior accounting major who serves as a student representative on The Patricia Adams Selection Committee, reflected on the experience of participating in the series and its various sessions this week.

October 2 

Private dinner in France Hall with Dr. Debbie Mielewski, Angela Harris and members of Selection Committee

The night before each PALS event, the Selection Committee has a private dinner with the speaker. We got the chance to meet with Debbie before anyone else and get to know her a little bit more on a personal level. The first thing I noticed about Debbie was her passion for the work she does. Immediately after introducing herself to me, she brought up the work she does for Ford as the technical leader of Plastics Research and the challenges she faces in creating green products. She is truly passionate about researching green technology in automobiles.

I was seated with Angela Harris, a member of Debbie’s team. Angela shares this same passion, and kept the table entertained the entire dinner with stories of her journey at Ford. Seeing Debbie and Angela’s excitement for their work made me hopeful that I, too, will find a career that I am passionate about in my future.

October 3

9:30 a.m: Small Group Mentoring Session
Debbie Mielewski and two members of her team, Dr. Ellen Lee and Angela Harris, led this session. The women discussed their journeys at Ford. Debbie has worked for Ford for 27 years, and when she first started at the company there wasn’t even a woman’s restroom on her floor! It is clear that Ford has made great strides in incorporating women into the business.

The women discussed the importance of balancing family life with work life during this session as well. All three of the women have children, and Ford was very generous in allowing flexibility with their work schedules while their children were young. Ford offers a variety of options for its employees to work around their personal lives, whether it be part time or working odd hours. This emphasized that having a family and a successful career is very possible, which is encouraging to those who want both in life.

Debbie and Angela also emphasized the idea of “leaning in” to opportunities, and to not back away from those that come your way. It is never too early to have unique experiences and figure out your passions. Debbie stated that, “pursuing something you really believe in is worth it in the end.”

PALS speaker11a.m. Session 1 – “Marketing Green Techonology”
This session featured a panel of women. Debbie, Angela and Ellen were present, as was Suzie Reineke, the marketing coordinator for Reineke Family Dealerships. Suzie discussed Ford’s approach to sustainability. Ford meets government environmental mandates in ways that will keep consumers excited. Ford develops short-term and long-term plans to satisfy customers based on who they are and what they value.

Debbie and her team spent 10 years developing the soy foam that would replace petroleum-based materials. Ford’s job now is to learn how to market these materials to consumers. The company wants to make people aware of Ford’s philosophy to decrease its environmental footprint. Suzie explained how Ford uses a comparison calculator to show savings in buying a green car versus a traditional car. This lays out all costs of the options. Seeing it on paper, it just makes more sense cost-wise to go green!

Debbie touched on the idea of staying true to yourself in the business world. She discussed how she grew up recycling and trying to reduce her footprint on the environment. After years at Ford, she found herself leading the plastics department! She struggled with this idea, and wondered how she could be OK with working in an area that went against what she believed. Debbie decided to find a way in which she could still do her job in plastics and feel good about the work she was doing. She set her mind to finding a way to make plastics compostable. Although the idea was wildly unpopular at first, she stuck with it and continued to believe in it. Ten years later, her hard work paid off when she led the team that developed soy foam that would be put into Ford automobiles. Debbie found a way to stay true to her beliefs and not stray from who she was in the business world, which is inspiring.

2 p.m. Session 2 – “Growing Green”
Henry Ford believed that a partnership between the auto industry and agriculture was crucial. Seventy years later, Debbie and her team are continuing his work and legacy through using soybeans in products for cars. Debbie and her team have spent the past 12 years developing sustainable materials. The idea of producing sustainable materials has generated lots of interest in the corporation. Debbie and her team discussed the chemistry behind the development of such materials. They went into detail regarding some of the projects they are working on, such as obtaining natural rubber from dandelions and using wheat straw to produce storage bins. I would have never even thought that something so basic such as a dandelion could be used to make products in cars! Debbie also emphasized the idea of collaboration. Her team will work with anyone who has a similar philosophy regarding green materials.

Debbie Mielewski6:30 p.m. – Dinner & Keynote Address
I had the honor of introducing Patricia Adams at the dinner. Patricia Adams is one of Heidelberg’s most passionate supporters. It was an honor to experience the lecture series that Patricia has worked so hard to create and continue.

The Selection Committee has worked to host speakers from all different areas of business, and it was a unique experience to host a woman scientist. One of Debbie’s main points during her keynote was to “do what feels right.”

After Debbie became the leader of the Plastics team for Ford, she realized she wasn’t exactly excited about working in an area with such a bad reputation. She grew up recycling and reusing materials, and wanted to continue doing this. She wanted to feel good about the work she was doing and make a difference in the world. Debbie realized she could change the negative connotation regarding the Plastics part of Ford’s business. With her team, she persevered to discover ways to create green products for cars. She had an idea she was passionate about and ran with it. Her determination is truly inspiring. It was an honor to have her as a speaker for the Patricia Adams Lecture Series.