Passionate problem-solver empowers future women of STEM

By Renee Bassett

A passion for continuous improvement and a desire to give back drives one chemical engineer, Six Sigma blackbelt, and mom to mentor girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers like her own. The result is rewards that keep coming, personally and professionally.

With a BS in chemical engineering, Amy AlSahsah has certified more than 300 candidates in Lean Six Sigma from white belt to black belt during her eight-year career with Greene Tweed. She helps the global manufacturer of high-performance thermoplastics, composites, seals, and engineered components improve factory performance, including safety, quality, delivery, and cost.

AlSahsah uses her expertise in Six Sigma's define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC) methodologies and lean manufacturing/management techniques to meet problems head on at Green Tweed's Kulpsville, Pa., facility. And she often manages to solve them creatively using the combined talents of engineers and shop floor associates.

As a woman managing production on the floor, AlSahsah has found that she is typically perceived as being easily approachable. "People feel they can tell [me] things about finding problems and variations. There is perhaps an inherent trust that I am listening and might do something to correct the issue identified," she says.

Be an engineer first

AlSahsah tells girls that it is far easier to become an engineer or scientist first, and then use that background to accomplish anything else they want. She says in college she was initially a chemistry major, but quickly realized that she wanted to work in production, so she switched to chemical engineering in her second year and never looked back.

"Being a good problem solver is priceless-it will take your whole life in a positive path," says AlSahsah. "You can be anything if you are first an engineer-doctor, lawyer, nurse, accountant, artist, author, or marketing and sales professional. Going the other way is not always doable."

"Do it even though it is hard. That is what makes you grow!" AlSahsah adds.

AlSahsah regularly participates in a number of events, including speaking at her daughter's middle school STEM day and actively supporting Take Your Daughter to Work events. "I also will mentor anyone who comes along and asks for advice for their children or my daughter's friends!" she says.

She interacts with the local technical high school and participates in the Society of Women Engineers chapter at her alma mater, Lafayette College. The group supports numerous middle school activities, an engineering week, and a science fair, as well as providing scholarships and awards. She also gives advice to individual chapter members wondering whether they should pursue application versus process engineering and answers their questions about which courses to take.

"One of my prior roles as a process engineer for seven years at a small chemical plant has really paid dividends, because it enables me to mentor and coach other process engineers in ways they can make improvements," AlSahsah says.

Get to root causes

Her first engineering supervisor, also a chemical engineer, mentored her to problem solve by quickly getting to root causes. Her background helping in the family machine shop and insulation business propelled her initial interest in continuous improvement and taught her how it can enhance the bottom line. She worked on the family cars and did yardwork, while also learning traditionally female domestic duties such as cooking and crafts. AlSahsah has systems for everything, from loading the dishwasher to maintaining her cars.

"There are still people out there with preconceived notions about what an engineer looks like," says AlSahsah, and still a lack of awareness of what engineers actually do. Luckily, she has lots of examples to share with students and fellow engineers. These and other achievements resulted in AlSahsah being the first woman profiled in Greene Tweed's Women of STEM series.

AlSahsah's first black belt project saved $995,000 in one year and increased the product's profitability. The team she led eliminated a source of contamination that had caused a line stop issue and reconfigured the inspection process to mitigate similar issues moving forward.

More recently, she led a 20-30-person, cross-functional team looking for ways to reduce obsolete inventory. Diving deeply into past customer orders, they worked with the production, quality, planning, and methods groups, along with SAP programmers, to introduce better methods for systematic product scrap planning. By reducing scrap, that project saved her company $2.2 million in a year.

This column is adapted from Green Tweed's Women of STEM series found at www.gtweed.com.

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About the Author

Association News fig 1Renee Bassett is chief editor for InTech magazine and Automation.com and publications contributing editor for ISA.

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