How One 23-Year-Old Woman Is Breaking Barriers In A Male-Dominated Industry

Photo: Courtesy of Ford.
When Victoria Schein, now 23, interned at Ford Motor Company after her junior year at Smith College, a women's school in Northampton, Massachusetts, she went from one extreme to another: An entirely female environment to one that is still largely male. Even though women control over 75% of the decision-making when it comes to buying cars, the industry itself has remained male-dominated.
For Schein, the transition felt natural. "Growing up, when someone asked me what I wanted to do, I would say 'car designer' — it just always stuck with me," she says. "I would draw cars, cut out pictures from magazines and make collages on my wall, and wanted everything to do with designing cars."
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Now, as a research engineer in Product Development in Ford's College Graduate rotational program in Dearborn, MI, she's making her mark on the industry and working to promote women in STEM initiatives. Schein, who is currently focused on developing technology to improve air quality in cars, already has nine patents to her name. Her work has included a geotag device that alerts drivers about anything dangerous in their path.
She's also bringing an unexpected perspective to the field. Even though she spends every day working with cars, Schein herself doesn't have a license. Busy high school years of competitive gymnastics and a brother who could drive meant that she never found the need for one. Now, she sees trying to get from point A to point B as a fun challenge — and one that gives her an advantage at the office.
"[Ford] doesn't have a lot of perspective from someone who's always a passenger or a pedestrian trying to get to work safely," she says. "When I'm thinking of solutions without a license, I'm thinking about how I can help anyone get where they need to go."
Ahead, she breaks down her day from its painfully early start to finish.
Photo: Courtesy of Ford.
4:00 – 5:30 A.M: I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., and spend about 30 minutes under my cozy electric blanket skimming social media, news articles, and Pinterest, which ultimately ends up being my motivation to get out of my warm bed in the morning. After about 30 minutes of looking at food on Pinterest and getting hungry, I’m motivated to run lightning-speed to the kitchen for breakfast.
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I start to crave some caffeine and make my absolute favourite caffeinated drink – a homemade matcha green tea latte with almond milk. I love these lattes so much that I bought a milk frother from IKEA to make it feel very official.
I’m gluten- and lactose-intolerant, so my breakfast is either Cheerios, a banana smoothie, or some gluten-free oatmeal with fresh fruit. To save time in the morning, I often make breakfast the night before — I love making overnight oats.
5:30 – 6:30 A.M.: While rice is cooking and boiling over because I forget to watch it, I make a to-go green tea latte for work (yes, I told you I’m obsessed) and finish putting my lunch together so I can grab it when I’m ready to leave for work.
I [get dressed] and gravitate toward wearing comfortable ankle boots, since I’m walking around the building to meetings a lot during the day, or, if it is snowing outside, I put on my waterproof boots. I get cold easily, so I layer up with jackets and always have my favourite Ford fleece jacket at the office for when I’m extra cold.
6:30 – 7:30 a.m.: I make a to-do list and prioritise tasks I need to get done for that day and how long I estimate each task taking. I organise my Outlook calendar and plot when in my day I’ll be able to accomplish certain tasks outside of attending meetings and other work activities.
I’m someone who writes everything down on paper to keep a thorough agenda and remember things that pop into my head. I keep a detailed work/lab notebook that I carry around with me everywhere. I read it in the morning to make sure I haven’t missed any future tasks I need to accomplish. Then, I go through emails and make sure I am organized for the day. My goal is to always have a plan going into work so that I have structure and productivity, or else I’ll get lost in the little tasks and lose track of time.
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I make sure I have all work items in my backpack (badge, laptop, agenda, notebooks, binders, paper) and personal items (Chapstick, lotion, tissues, headphones, mobile device, water bottle, wallet, and keys), and then I grab my lunch and head out.
7:30 – 8:30ish a.m.: When I leave for work depends on how I’m getting to the Research and Innovation Centre and when my first meeting is that day. My journey to work is never the same. Some days I’ll bike if the weather is nice or I'll take the Ford dynamic shuttle. The shuttle stops only at Ford approved locations, and the closest location to my apartment is about 0.3 miles away, which is a nice, relaxing walk
8:30 – 11:30 a.m.: Typically, my work day starts with a group team meeting or one-on-one with my supervisor. There are recurring weekly meetings in this time chunk that are important for me to attend and keep me updated with certain project developments. I’m in meetings for a lot of my morning and don’t sit down at my desk until it's almost time for lunch.
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.: I catch up on emails and decide when I’m hungry for lunch. I can get overwhelmed with all of the things I need to do during the day and get so focused that I forget to eat, but I’ve been working on making sure that every day, I devote a set time to eating my lunch and enjoying it, rather than doing work while eating.
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1:00 – 3:00 p.m: During most afternoons, I’m in the lab with a colleague working on an experimental setup and taking data for a project relating to aerosol science, sensors, and vehicle cabin air quality. This lab work is very hands-on, and I learn so many things that aren’t specific to my engineering and studio art background.
On Mondays I have a recurring meeting with a group of employees volunteering for MCWT (Michigan Counsel of Women in Technology) to help organise a future event for Girls Who Code. I’m working to become more active in groups at Ford, such as the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Product Development, Women in IT, the design thinking community, and the Ford running club.
3:00 – 5:00 p.m.: This time of my day varies, but can consist of meetings that couldn’t be scheduled earlier in the day, continuing my lab work and data collection, vetting potential inventions and patent material, or working with cross-functional teams on new ideas.
I eat a quick snack to keep alert and energised. One of the things I struggle with throughout the work day is remembering to drink water, so I’m trying to make a habit of drinking more water to stay hydrated.
5:00 – 6:00 p.m: Now comes the time to…head home! This process is similar to my morning mobility routine of figuring out how I’m going to get to work — I get ride from a friend, take the shuttle, bike, or walk.
When I get home, I check my mail and decompress by cleaning my kitchen (weird, I know, but cleaning is stress-relieving for me), knitting, watching a TV show on Netflix, or going online.
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I also enjoy going to a local market called Westborn to peruse each aisle with sometimes no intention of buying anything specific. The market is only a short walk away from where I live, so it’s a good excuse for me to get out of the apartment after a long day at work.
6:00 – 7:00 p.m.: My current hobby is learning how to make sushi so I have been getting really into that and the process. It does require me to take more time out of my nightly routine, but learning a new hobby has been a great way to decompress after work while eating one of my favourite types of food!
7:00 – 9:00 P.M.: I exercise on my stationary bike for about thirty minutes. I try to work out daily using the bike I have in my living room, or I do daily workouts from the Nike+ Training Club app. The app caters to my living situation and creates workouts that don’t require me to have equipment.
I talk to my boyfriend on the phone and then call or text my family, if they’re available. I’m a triplet and my mum and dad are in Southern California, and so is my brother, who’s at UCLA in grad school for mechanical engineering. My sister is here in Michigan in grad school. It's fun when we can all Skype or call each other at the same time, but challenging given our different time zones and work schedules.
To wind down before sleeping, I read a few chapters of a fiction or mystery book — I'm currently reading The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) — or a journal article for research that I’m doing at Ford for projects or invention disclosures. It’s hard to find time during the day to read everything I want, but taking a little time to read before bed really makes a difference to me.
I often end up staying up too late while scrolling through Pinterest recipes and news articles on my phone, and then finish up some last-minute work responsibilities on my laptop before the next work day. Finally, I grab a glass of water and set my sleep app to monitor my sleeping patterns — I use the app Sleep Cycle.
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