Jennifer Benson is someone who knows what it takes to thrive under pressure, a skill many women in engineering possess. As an Advanced Structures Program Chief Engineer at Collins Aerospace, she is responsible for leading a team of engineers who are facing complex challenges in aerospace and defense.
“My team is responsible for commercial nacelles and other aircraft structures for Boeing and military programs,” Benson said. Her team is in the unique position of working on programs that range from development and design all the way to implementation. “We really work at the cutting edge of development and production,” Benson explained. “And it’s all based around this idea of advanced structures.”
Benson told The Modern Battlespace that despite her role as the leader of a cutting-edge engineering team today, she wasn’t always set on the path of an engineer. “I wasn’t that kid, the four-year-old that is running around taking things apart and saying, ‘I want to be an engineer!’” Benson said. “I started down that path in high school. I wasn’t very interested in history or English. Instead, I found myself drawn to classes in science and math.”
A formative moment in Benson’s life happened while helping to decorate for her high school’s homecoming. As she was designing and building a larger decoration, she was approached by a teacher who saw how naturally she took to the task and encouraged her to check out engineering. “I ended up joining an extra-curricular where we designed these outrageous Rube-Goldberg machines and from there started getting into physical, chemical, and electrical engineering.”
That passion would translate into a nearly 13-year career full of moments that Benson fondly reflected on. “The proudest moments all tie back to seeing something that I worked on being used. Every time I walk on a plane, I know that there is some component somewhere that our team worked on designing, or fabricated, or fixed in the field,” Benson said.
“The other aspect of the role that I really enjoy is talking with the people who use our products, listening to what they like or dislike, what they need, and how we can do better. That is how we get great innovations,” Benson added.
As one of the women in engineering, Benson is all too familiar with the common diversity issues facing the industry but notes things have been looking better. “I am fortunate that I was able to walk in the path that a tremendous number of female scientists and engineers walked before,” Benson noted. They paved the way for women like me who may have been one of a handful of women in the school’s engineering college.”
Benson added that the mental aspect of being a woman in the male-dominated field is something that can be a high hurdle for many people, but that having people who can remind you of your promise helps. “You have to be able to look people in the eye when they ask, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ and say ‘Yes!’, that is the mental game you have to play with yourself. I was fortunate in having people who would support me,” Benson added. “But you need to be confident and take those opportunities when they come up.”
Benson’s advice for anyone looking to start a career in engineering is to be prepared to jump at the opportunity. “Be open and give things a try. Nine times out of ten, I am extremely nervous when an opportunity comes up,” Benson said. “But no matter how nervous something may make you; it is always worth it to try. Explore, take calculated risks, find opportunities to showcase your skills. You never know if that large homecoming set might be the start of an amazing and fulfilling career!”
To learn more about career paths for women in engineering, click here.