Women in Engineering - Carrie Metzger


June 23rd is International Women in Engineering Day and Everactive would love to salute and celebrate the contributions of the driven and intelligent women who are changing our world through engineering. 

Beginning in the UK in 2017, National Women in Engineering Day went worldwide due to enthusiasm developed by the international audience and participants in previous years. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was born to enable the celebration of women in engineering to become global.

In honor of the occasion, we were privileged to have chatted with Carrie Metzger, a chemical engineer who works as a Senior Project Engineer for Colgate-Palmolive. She shared her journey as a female engineer, her role models and influence, and her advice to young people looking towards careers in STEM.

Thanks for joining us Carrie, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your current position, and maybe a brief history of your career and experience? 

I am Carrie Metzger, I work for Colgate-Palmolive. My current role is a Senior Process Engineer for our home care site. At Colgate, we have different divisions and the Home Care is all the Ajax and Palmolive brands for North America. We also produce Fabuloso and Suavitel. 

I’ve been in this role for about two years. I’m part of a project right now that is helping to reformulate our products to meet a new state regulation. So we’re changing how we make our surfactant, so it’s a pretty significant project for the site.

Previous to this role, I spent five years as an operations area leader in our sulfonation plant, where we make the surfactants. Prior to that I spent about 10 years managing production lines, at our different facilities across Colgate, I’ve been with Colgate for 23 years.

I started out with Colgate-Palmolive operations as a continuous improvement engineer out in Kansas City and then moved through different team leaders, operations/management-type positions. I had an opportunity to go to our New Jersey facility, where we made personal care products as a process engineer.  Then I came back to Cambridge, Ohio. Well, I’m from Ohio, so I got an opportunity to come back to Cambridge, Ohio and join the operations team here.

And so, I’ve just kind of progressed through different roles. 23 years with Colgate, three different facilities. I’ve done bar soap making, surfactant making, deodorant, so a lot of exposure to a variety of products and processes!

How did you get involved in engineering? 

So just to reveal my age a little bit, in the 80s, at the height of the space program and for most of my childhood, I thought I wanted to be either an astronaut or an aeronautical engineer, believe it or not.  When I got to high school and got into chemistry classes and formed a great relationship with my chemistry teacher. 

And as a sophomore in high school he’s like “you know you would be really good in chemical engineering”. I didn’t even know what that was at the time, but he said you have the skill set for it. So I did a little bit of research and I actually went to the Ohio State University, enrolled as a chemical engineering student and graduated with my degree in that, so I never changed my degree from my sophomore year of high school until now because I’m still basically a chemical engineer, so I think I was influenced by my teachers.

My family was also very supportive. I have cousins that are electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, so it kind of runs in my family a little bit. None of them are in the field, I’m the only one that actually got my degree and stayed in the field. So I was kind of surrounded by that influence but, ultimately I’ve always enjoyed understanding how things work, how things function. I’ve always been very curious, and then having a strong skill set in math and science obviously leads to this career path.

What do you like about being an engineer?

I like to solve problems. I love to make things better, the idea of continuous improvement, the idea of being able to solve problems has always been a challenge to me. It drives me to come to work, so I enjoy that piece, the technical side of it being able to approach a problem, come up with a solution and then see that implemented.

I get to work hand in hand with some of the best skilled trades people in our country and to me that’s kind of a lost art anymore in our society. Getting to work with those guys and watch, you know the construction process, I just really enjoy that piece of it.

On the other hand, what is difficult about being an engineer?

Not everything goes according to plan! The other pieces that vary when you’re implementing a project, most of the time it has a direct impact on production. And if things don’t go exactly the way you envisioned them, you have an impact on production or cause product loss or something like that.

The negative side is that when you have that much responsibility and impact to the production facility, you also have the ability to not help it be successful.

What impact do you feel you have created through the positions you’ve held? 

The other piece of it is relationships right? Building your team and understanding what the skill sets are of the people around you. As I progress through Colgate, it’s really important to understand who you’re working with, what their skill sets are and, making sure you’ve got a strong team around you to be successful. I think one of the things that I really take pride in is helping people develop.

I do a lot with our Colgate Global Engineering Summer Internship program, so mentoring engineering students every summer, I’ve done that for years. Whether I’m directly supervising them at the site, or just acting as a mentor, I usually try to do both. So just trying to continue on the path on whatever I can to help people be as enamored with the production and engineering, as I am. 

After COVID especially, we have seen this shortage of skilled talent, so your enthusiasm for training and being a role model is appreciated. 

You know, with COVID, we never missed a day of work at the site, our site never shut down for even an hour through the whole thing. So we continued to work at the site, we were sort of the technical team, where there was really not an opportunity to work from home. We kept going, it was very important to make sure we turned out surfactant to keep the hands, dishes, and homes clean during all of this.

Who have been role models for you as you navigate your career in engineering?

I started in college, I did my summer internships at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Company down in Kentucky and there were definitely people that inspired me there. They were my mentors, they challenged me and kind of opened up my eyes to transitioning from book logic, or learning what you’re learning in the classroom to making it come to life. 

When I first started at Colgate, my direct manager was a woman and she was operations manager at a manufacturing site, so obviously you know I talked to her about her career path and how she got there, and things that she’s done. She’s now one of the VPs for environmental, health and safety and sustainability for Colgate so she’s obviously continued to do very well in her career. I think Colgate does a nice job of focusing on making sure that if you want it, you can seek out mentorship and growth opportunities. 

Can you provide some advice to other women interested in STEM?

I think I would give the same advice to men and women, young engineering students: I think if it’s something that you’re excited about and are passionate about, go for it! You know, we need to work to continue to break down these barriers that manufacturing and engineering and STEM are male dominated or even a certain race dominated fields, because they’re not. I know in college, I was part of the society of women engineers, it’s that whole idea of being part of a collective.

I will be honest, the majority of the people I work with are men, but I feel the work environment, at least for me, has really changed so that I’m just as respected and invaluable in my career path as any of the other gentlemen that I work with.

I know around here, we literally do a manufacturing summer camp and the students go to several different manufacturing sites and talk to people in the field so they can see if it’s a good fit for them and the company. I just strongly encourage you to find people who are like minded and share your passion and see where it goes.

How have you adjusted into being the kind of role model you wanted for yourself in life?

It’s still humbling for sure. Your first instinct is to be a little insecure at times, like I don’t know if I have what they need from me to be successful. I see the best in people, I try to see the best in people already so I don’t know if I can help them, but keeping them open to the idea that there’s something that they can learn. 

I would say I’m still learning. I think you should always have someone that can look up to you and you can look up to them. That’s the key, to always make sure you’re in that phase where you’re open to giving feedback and receiving feedback and are open to mentoring someone and being mentored at the same time. One of the reasons I like to stay engaged with our summer engineering interns is I always learn something new.