Whitney Marrero (formerly Whitney Epperson)
Job: Lead Materials Engineer, General Electric
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
I was connected to Whitney through her fiancé, Tyler, who happens to be one of my interviews as well. The two met while they were both interns at GE several years ago and the rest is history. Whitney has managed to stay a rare millennial by working for the same company since she graduated and the reasons for why she has stayed are extremely impactful.
Tell us about yourself.
So I am 29, was born in Somerset, Kentucky, and went to The University of Kentucky where I studied Material Science Engineering. I didn’t initially know I wanted to do Material Science, but I knew I was interested in engineering. I did a couple of internships throughout school, and one of those internships was in Greenville with General Electric. I happened to fall in love with the area and the company, which gave me a lot of flexibility. I found that it is a really great company to work for, so here I am six years later.
What has your career path looked like?
For my first internship, I worked in an aluminum mill where they roll aluminum used to make cans, so that was my first experience in an industrial manufacturing environment. After that experience, I learned that it was not necessarily the type of environment I wanted to be in long-term. Then, I was doing repair work and that was a really great experience to have. I came back the next summer on the same team, but since I had some prior experience, the team gave me bigger projects even as an intern. That gave me some confidence, and I ended up applying for one of GE’s programs known as the Edison Leadership Program, which is a two-year commitment that requires you to have four roles throughout. It was just a fantastic program that is a great transition from college to full-time. That was a sort of crazy time because not only was I doing the program, but I was also getting my Master’s degree. And to top it all off, I decided to move new cities, since I had the capacity to do so, so I worked in the Atlanta and Houston offices, which gave me a chance to see a different side to the company. It was an opportunity that GE financially helped me with and I thought it was a cool way to see the country too. It was definitely a launch pad for my career after being in the program.
What is it like working for a corporate company?
It is probably common with any large company, but you have the slowness that comes from working for a big company. Big companies can be slower to react at times, so if you have ideas for a project, you have to fight for the funding because there are also several other groups fighting for funding as well. On the flip side, there are many things I really like about working for a large company like GE. There are so many opportunities to grow here and the people at GE are unique; everyone is very respectful, enjoys their job, and is very smart. I enjoy working with talented people every day.
What is it like being a woman in your field?
I am definitely a minority being a woman, like most engineering fields are, but I definitely feel supported. I feel like over the past few years, GE has made a big push with the whole balanced equation, so they are trying to get women more exposure and more opportunities. I see them hiring more women too. The leadership program I was in just hired 50% women in their most recent class, which is a huge step forward. It wasn’t like that in my time in that program. We also have a women’s network group here which allows you to network with other women in your field, so there are plenty of opportunities.
Have you had any hardships in your young professional career?
Probably more than I could count. Over the last two years, I’ve been given more autonomy in my current role, which I have now been in for four years. I have been promoted within this role, so I now get bigger projects which end up being a lot to handle sometimes.
What would you tell your 22-year-old-self right now?
I would tell myself you’re going to get through it. There was a time period with grad school and work that I often thought, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I would tell myself to try new things and take chances. It worked out best for me that I had such a niche study of mechanics, but I didn’t let that limit myself. You can always learn on the job; college really teaches you to learn and teaches you fundamentals, but it will never 100% prepare you for the real world or a specific industry.
Do you think that being a millennial has helped or hurt you?
It was probably the hardest for me when I was first out of college. I was on an all-male team and they were all older with wives and kids, and they really had no idea how to approach me or what to talk to me about. GE has a bit of a stereotype of having reserved and introverted engineers, and that was very much the case with my first team. After a while, I became much more comfortable, but it was a good lesson to learn.
Can you tell us about a mistake you’ve made and how you have learned from it?
Thankfully I haven’t made any major mistakes that were career-limiting or something like that, but always being the youngest one on my team for years now has taught me to not act like a know-it-all. Some of the smaller mistakes I have made were because I didn’t ask questions, so it’s really important to do that. Oh, and being transparent and humble is crucial too.
What is it like working for the same company for several years?
I have a lot of friends who are now on their third or fourth job and it is surprising to me. What is unique to me personally is that I studied something very technical and I have built up this experience in such a unique field, so I’m not just going to work hard for something and then go do something else. I’m learning new things all of the time and don’t feel bored or stagnant here, so I think that is probably why I’ve stayed at one company for so long. Some people are miserable because they are bored or don’t see growth, and I do see that here, so I’m happy where I am.
What do you like about being a young professional? Do you think you have a good work-life balance?
I absolutely have a good work-life balance. It’s definitely something that makes me more of a young professional. I love to travel and being a young professional gives me that disposable income to do so. I feel like your twenties is the time to explore the world and your thirties is the time to start a family, but that’s just the background I grew up around. Since I graduated, I’ve been to about two countries a year, and I make that a big priority. I got into triathlons over the last year, which has been great as well. There is a big community for that here, which has been great and has given me a new network. I wouldn’t say I had the best balance my first couple of years out of school. I had a “work hard, play hard” mentality, and it was just not a good balance at all. It was unsustainable, but I eventually figured it out.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Since I moved to Greenville and didn’t know anyone, the friends I made through my internship and my job really turned into my family. It can’t just always be about work; you have to have a life outside of work.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
– It's important to ask questions and be humble
– Working for big companies has its setbacks and its perks
– College teaches you to learn and teaches you basic fundamentals, but it will never 100% prepare you for the real world or a specific industry