Women in Engineering: Natascha Neptune Finds an Extra Rewarding Career as a Mechanical Engineer
Daphne MacDonald posted on March 08, 2018 | | 4523 views

For Natascha Neptune to succeed in engineering, she had to overcome her fear of failure. Throughout her career path, her ambition and hard work paid off, leading to a rewarding career that she couldn’t imagine her life without.

Natascha Neptune is a senior mechanical engineer at Mars Wrigley Confectionary. (Image courtesy of Natascha Neptune.)

Natascha Neptune is a senior mechanical engineer at Mars Wrigley Confectionary. (Image courtesy of Natascha Neptune.)

Natascha Neptune is a Senior Mechanical Engineer at MARS WRIGLEY CONFECTIONERY in Chicago, Illinois. She is part of the Breakthrough Technology Development team and designs high speed servo driven packaging equipment to support the packaging of gum and confectionery products. Natascha has worked on the design of packaging machines for various Wrigley gum products, such as 5, Big Red, Extra, Juicy Fruit, and Orbit.

Although she has always been passionate about designing machines, she had a different type of machine in mind when she first started her career path.

While growing up in Connecticut, Neptune had a fascination with how things worked. She would detach the back of her television to see where the images came from. And, thankfully, she had a knack for putting things back together after dismantling them.

She also liked to assist her dad and uncles with their car repairs, acting as their helper, holding parts and tools for them while they changed the oil, brakes or tires.Neptune has always loved cars, having played with Hot Wheels as a kid. Her favorite car is the classic ’69 or ’70 Dodge Charger.And it was this love of cars that eventually drove Neptune to become an engineer.

Neptune’s aptitude for mathematics and science also helped. As a first-generation Haitian-American, Creole was her first language. Although her parents studied English as a second language, it took some time for Neptune to feel comfortable speaking English. But she was good at math. She felt comfort in the subject since it was her “safe zone” in school.

When deciding on a career path in high school, nothing appealed to her—exceptfor the idea of working in the automotive industry. Neptune wanted to design cars. And to do that, Neptune decided she needed to be an engineer.

In 1999, Neptune earned her mechanical engineering degree at the University of Notre Dame (UND) in Indiana.But during this time, the auto industry was facing an uncertain future and had experienced a recent strike. So instead of pursuing her original plan, Neptune looked for work with companies that were either in the automotive industry or supplied this industry.

That same year, Neptune started working as a mechanical engineer at Midwest Automation, a custom design house that designs and builds custom automation machinery. One of Neptune’s first major design projects at the company was helping to facilitate ink-fill sub-assemblies for ink cartridges. During her time at Midwest Automation, Neptune assisted with the design of custom automation machinery for building a variety of consumer products.

A machine file drawing modeled in Solid Edge. (Image courtesy of Mars Wrigley.)

A machine file drawing modeled in Solid Edge. (Image courtesy of Mars Wrigley.)

Neptune then moved on to work for Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company in 2003. Since then, she has designed thousands of parts with Solid Edge, a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software. Solid Edge allows Neptune and her team to simulate function and motion for mechanisms, see how they work, and find any flaws in their designs.

She has also used the software’s Dynamic Designer add-on for dynamic analysis. Upon adding certain elements, this simulation allows her team to look at the forces on specific joints and parts of the design. Dynamic analysis tests and evaluates a design during movement and under specific conditions. The results can then be used to improve the design so that it can withstand certain elements.

Her team also collaborates with the Mars Wrigley Confectionary’s Research and Development (R&D) team to design test fixtures, and helps 

The shapes for this packaging are modeling Solid Edge a texture imageis added to the model.. (Image courtesy of Mars Wrigley.)

The shapes for this packaging are modeling Solid Edge a texture image is added to the model.. (Image courtesy of Mars Wrigley.)

other departments with both design and repairs.

In her work, Solid Edge has also been useful in helping her create powerpoint presentations. The 3D illustrations and visual accents in Solid Edge allow Neptune to create striking displays of her designs. Compared to other 3D packages Neptune has used in the past, Solid Edge is very stable and robust, and is capable of handling very large sub-assemblies with 2,000-plus parts.

Since she started her career at Wrigley, Neptune earned her master’s degree in engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and has stayed engaged with the Engineering Department at UND.

At UND and elsewhere, Neptune has participated in student outreach and career day presentations. She has also spoken to students at various schools—from elementary schools to universities—about her experiences in engineering and promoting the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field. She wants to share her passion for engineering with young people who are considering this field for their education and careers, and tries to help them see the vast opportunities that exist.

Neptune has also mentored students in engineering who have felt overwhelmed with the rigorous curriculum. Although Neptune is aware that engineering programs are not easy, her student outreach has been aimed at reducing the fear and intimidation associated with the STEMfield.

Neptune said she got through the rigorous university work with good study habits, a good study partner, and a strong work ethic. Also, colleges and university, like UND, have academic support centers that offer tutoring services to help keep students on track if they ever find they’re struggling with course material.

During internships, Neptune said rotational internship programs help with student retention in engineering. Wrigley had a rotational internship program that allowed interns to work in different departments and gauge their interests. These mentorship programs can be especially helpful at driving retention for female students.

However, Neptune is concerned that when it comes to math these days, more kids are experiencing fear and frustration due to current math curriculums. Instead of teaching kids basic math skills that they can carry forward in school, such curriculums are introducing kids to abstract concepts before they first have a firm understanding of the foundations of math. These negative experiences with math may turn students off of the subject completely.

When asked about her experiences as a woman in engineering, Neptune says they have only been positive. Although she acknowledges that women are generally outnumbered by men in her field—both in school and in the workplace—this has never been an issue for her.

Neptune’s graduating mechanical engineering class of 1999 had 50 students, with the school’s largest class of female engineering students. And when Neptune was hired at Midwest Automation, she was one of two female entry-level mechanical engineers hired at the same time.

Throughout her 19-year career in engineering, Neptune never had a problem with being the only woman in the room. Maybe it’s her love of cars and her ability to talk about them all day. Or maybe she’s just found her niche among supportive colleagues who have mutual respect for each other.

When describing her experiences as a woman in engineering, Neptune says she has always felt comfortable and appreciated “because one of the things I was always taught was to learn. And you learn from these guys. . . I’ve always had really great supervisors who were always challenging me because they saw more than I saw in me. And I think that speaks a lot of volume.”

In regards to working at Wrigley, Neptune said, “it’s been a joy,” and that she feels “blessed” with her experiences.Neptune has had a fulfilling career, and her passion for engineering never wanes. The excitement and ideas involved with the design process fuels her passion.

Over the years, and with the help of Solid Edge throughout the design process, Neptune and her colleagues have worked many long hours to design packaging machines for Wrigley gum products. So, it is a truly rewarding experience for Neptune when she is in a store and sees the many products packaged by the machines she helped to design.

Although she didn’t end up designing cars, Neptune still designs machines and is content with her career in engineering: “It’s been a great experience. I’m glad I chose this career path . . . I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

Siemens has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. All opinions are mine. —Daphne MacDonald

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