Materials science and engineering alumna Ricole (Edwards) Johnson '89 is a materials engineer with more than 20 years of experience in engineering, product development, manufacturing operations, project management, R&D, and business development. She has worked for multiple Fortune 500 companies spanning many different industries, including pharmaceutical, automotive, steel, chemical, aerospace, forestry, and consumer products.

Johnson currently works at The Boeing Company as a senior project engineer and technology integration leader in the Commercial Airplanes Product Development division, where she is responsible for design, management, and execution of large, complex technology and product development projects for next-generation airplanes. She leads airplane configuration development, technology demonstration requirements compliance, test platform risk management, safe-to-fly coordination, and environmentally sustainable airplane recycling strategy for Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator 777-200 platform.

How might society benefit from more women in engineering?

Women make up 50.8 percent of the population, according to the recent U.S. Census, yet are woefully under-represented (estimated 14 percent) in the field of engineering. Representation matters. Society would benefit by having more women in engineering because the talent, creativity, and perspective of women can generate innovative solutions to address numerous technological challenges ahead, for the betterment of life for all.

As a woman studying engineering at Lehigh, what did you learn about how to thrive in environments in which men typically are the majority? What did that experience teach you about yourself and what it takes to succeed?

As a woman engineering student at Lehigh, collaboration, contribution, and conviction were key traits I learned in order to thrive in majority male environments. Specifically, I learned how to bring forth my ideas, develop confidence in what I contributed, and work with others in a collaborative way to achieve results. Getting results is what engenders respect and fosters an environment in which to thrive and be successful. I was a materials science and engineering major at Lehigh. There were only a few women in my major, and we became friends and supported each other. We were small but mighty and garnered attention. That experience taught me that I may likely be the only or one of a few women in engineering environments throughout my career—and to embrace it. It takes knowing your strength, knowing what you bring to the table and that you deserve a seat at the table, and networking with others, to succeed.

What is one thing you learned at Lehigh that you’ve tapped repeatedly on your career trajectory?

Lehigh taught me the ability to be a problem solver. I learned how to “frame the issue” at hand, analyze its components, and systematically derive sound, rational solutions. I’ve also learned how to translate technically complex concepts and communicate into layman's terms that any non-technical person can understand. I have used these skills throughout my career as I have had to tackle difficult engineering challenges and manage large-scale engineering projects, while having to communicate project status to non-engineering executives and other stakeholders.

What do you want engineering students to know that you wish you’d known when you were at Lehigh?

I want engineering students, specifically women engineering students, to know that they are uniquely gifted and “have what it takes” to go anywhere they want to in life. Engineering provides a solid educational foundation and skill set that will open many doors of opportunity. When I was at Lehigh, I wish I had known how rewarding an engineering career would be.

More about Ricole Johnson

After earning her Lehigh undergraduate degree, Johnson went on to earn an MS in materials science and engineering from the University of Cincinnati and an MBA from Drexel University. She has also earned a graduate certificate in advanced project management from Stanford University and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®). She is pursuing a doctoral degree in systems engineering at Colorado State University. Johnson is a native of Plainfield, New Jersey. She currently resides in Seattle with her husband and son. When she is not working, she enjoys live theater, classical jazz music, mentoring, community volunteering, creative arts, and tennis.

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This Q&A is part of Resolve Magazine's Soaring Together series.