Engineer Spotlight: Anita Rebarchak
Engineer Spotlight: Anita Rebarchak, Senior Systems Engineer, Pratt & Whitney Interview conducted by Dr. Allison Case, a Postdoctoral fellow, at UT Southwestern Medical Center
Winning the ASME 2012 Old Guard Early Career Award, we were able to catch up with Anita Rebarchak, Senior Systems Engineer, Pratt & Whitney in Houston to talk with her about the evolution of her career as an early career engineer. In the interview, she provided us with some key practices for career development.
CASE: When did you first realize you wanted to become an engineer?
REBARCHAK: I don’t think I knew what engineering was exactly. I had a passion for math and science, but I didn’t know how to apply it to real world problems. In high school, I had a network of mentors, guidance counselors and teachers that helped guide me to engineering. Selecting mechanical engineering gave me a lot of options to tailor my studies and my career. I finished my undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at Drexel University.
CASE: Were there any other careers you thought about pursuing?
REBARCHAK: While at Drexel University, I participated in a co-op program. It gave me an opportunity to see engineering in the workplace first-hand and get advice from professional engineers. The experiences in different job positions with various companies within different industries gave me opportunities to learn more about what engineering is and how it is applied in the ‘real world’. I also learned more about what I liked and did not like. The impact engineering has on people, its constant challenges, and the variety of work solidified that engineering was the career for me.
CASE: Tell us about your work background and your experience at Pratt & Whitney, specifically, what is your role?
REBARCHAK: In my current role at Pratt & Whitney, I work closely with the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin to support fifth-generation engine programs. Previously, I worked as a coatings manufacturing process engineer in Pratt & Whitney's Turbine Module Center. My responsibilities included developing and standardizing processes for coatings on turbine blades, day-to-day production support, and implementation of process certification initiatives to improve quality and operational efficiency.
CASE: What do you know about your career now, that you wish you had known earlier?
REBARCHAK: I wish I learned how to network more effectively. Networking is invaluable early in your career and throughout your entire career really. It can be an awkward situation at first. However, over time you develop your own style, learn from others, and make changes to improve. Now, I am always evolving my own techniques for networking, communication, and continuous learning. In this field, it’s incredibly critical to always be improving and learning in order to stay relevant and competitive.
CASE: Tell us about your two master’s programs and how do they complement your engineering education?
REBARCHAK: Pratt & Whitney really values continuing education. I started my first master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but it evolved into a master’s in engineering science. This allowed me to customize a program that involved decision sciences, engineering systems and applied statistics for engineering and earn a Six Sigma Black Belt certification. It had a direct impact on the work that I was doing in manufacturing and continues to help me perform stronger data analysis when solving problems today.
My second master’s is in engineering management. The engineering management degree had a course curriculum similar to an M.B.A that focused on technical people and environments while learning management and business theory and applying it to case studies and solving problems in the areas of leadership, finance, economics, operations and logistics, human resources and marketing. The most effective engineers can understand technical aspects as well as communicate their knowledge clearly and concisely, understand the business environment, and be aware of how their products and projects have an impact on business results.
CASE: It seems like you enjoy your work and what you do. What do you do for fun or when you are not at work?
REBARCHAK: I love the volunteer work I do with ASME. To me, it’s fun and exciting. I like the people, initiatives and the activities that we do in ASME and my impact as a volunteer.
I also like to do what other young people like do, such as spending quality time with my family and friends. I enjoy cooking, baking, gardening, and hiking. When I get the opportunity, travelling and exploring new places is a great thrill.
CASE: Tell us a little bit about your experience with ASME?
REBARCHAK: I first got involved with ASME as a freshman at Drexel University with the university student section. An upperclassman recruited me to be a representative for my freshmen class and then the sophomore class. As part of the executive committee, we planned social, technical, and career development programs and worked to get other students interested in the Society. Later, I moved into a vice chair role.
When I moved to Connecticut after college, I was introduced to the local ASME section by a colleague and continued my volunteer work with the Hartford section. From there, I attended the ASME Leadership Training Conference (LTC) as an early career delegate. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the society and gain leadership skills. It was that and so much more! I connected with other early career engineers in the Society that were volunteering on student and early career initiatives on a more strategic level. That is how I got involved with the Committee on Early Career Development (CECD). I began participating in the CECD initiatives and I have been heavily involved with that for the past few years.
In Hartford, I am a student liaison for the student sections in our area. As a student liaison, I work with the student sections to connect students with professional engineers and other ASME members in the Hartford area and throughout the Society. I also mentor students one-on-one and work with the sections to coordinate student programs, such as professional development conferences, industry tours, resume reviews, and guest speakers.
I have been involved with several other ASME committees and initiatives, but I would say that the main part of my volunteer work has been focused on students and early career engineers.
CASE: What best practices would you offer to an early career engineer about being successful in their career?
REBARCHAK: Join a professional society and get involved. Some of the best and brightest engineers are members of professional societies like ASME. It’s a great way to build your network and learn new things about the industry you are in or learn about industries and technologies you never would have thought about or considered for your career.
Being part of ASME has given me the opportunity to grow and practice my engineering and leadership skills. It’s been a very comfortable and supportive environment where I could try things out, and learn about myself, how I react to different situations, and how I can make an impact. Those skills can be directly applied to situations I face in my profession and to being a leader in the workplace.
CASE: You were recently awarded the Old Guard Early Career award at ASME’s IMECE in November. How do you feel about being selected and what was your reaction when you heard?
REBARCHAK: I am definitely excited and feel honored to receive this award. I think it’s a great way for ASME to put a face on early career engineers and recognize the achievements they attain personally and professionally. I hope that it is going to inspire other early career engineers as they progress in their careers. I am also very thankful for the support of the ASME Old Guard and their initiatives that improve skills of students and early career engineers and assist in bridging the gap between college and professional life.