A Trajectory to Leadership as an Engineer
Before starting college, Carey Tassel, who is pursuing a BS in mechanical engineering, and an MS in engineering management with the PlusOne program, has a personal experience that led her to an interest in medical devices. She says, “I’ve always had an underlying interest in the medical space.” While in high school in Lexington, Massachusetts, Tassel participated in the Bioengineering Summer Immersion Program at Northeastern University and discovered that her talent fit into the problem-solving nature of engineering. She spent two weeks in a dorm at Northeastern exploring the Boston campus, talking with undergraduates, and learning directly from Northeastern faculty through a research project and labs while using the SolidWorks software for the first time. She applied early decision to Northeastern– the immersion program, the appeal of the co-op program, and her familiarity with Boston made her choice.
Once at Northeastern, Tassel switched from bioengineering to mechanical engineering, hoping to learn about medical devices and product design. “I wanted to solve problems and improve the lives of end users through design thinking.” Tassel stayed in touch with faculty member and summer program advisor Karen Kelly throughout her time at Northeastern. “She’s been an amazing resource throughout my college experience. I’d always go to her with questions about co-op and future opportunities,” she says. Tassel also mentions co-op advisor Georgia Looney and faculty member Art Rousmaniere, with whom she took a graduate product design class. Rousmaniere encouraged students to pick a problem in their life and design a solution. Her team designed a sliding lock for bathroom stalls that you could use with your foot, 3D printing, and building a prototype. Tassel reflects, “I was excited to go to every class. I was excited not only for the content but also how he’d deliver it with personal anecdotes from his career as a product design consultant. I left ready for future co-ops where I would explore the product design cycle in industry.”
Tassel formed strong connections with her fellow students. She names Sara Liebler, two years ahead of her, as a great mentor. “We met through the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and worked together on the Executive Board. She supported me as a leader and helped me develop networking and professional skills. We even worked together at my second co-op with her as a technical mentor.” Tassel later became president of SWE, and now, as a full-time engineering management graduate student, she is mentoring the future undergraduate leaders of the group.
Tassel’s first co-op was at Ambri, an energy storage startup in Spring 2020. “It was a great experience. I got hands-on experiences with welding, electronics, and building battery test stations,” she explains. Her second co-op was at the pharmaceutical company Lyndra Therapeutics, where Liebler was working. As part of the research and development team, Tassel was in the lab doing mechanical testing. A large project she worked on was a full redesign of a piece of test equipment. “I had a unique design perspective because I was on a team with scientists while working with engineers, so I was bridging two project goals into one product,” she says.
Tassel’s capstone project was a mask for COVID and flu that could collect condensed respiratory droplets as they were exhaled and store them for diagnostic testing. Working with a client at Harvard Medical School who proposed the idea, her team integrated a fluid collection mechanism powered by electronic components into a wearable and reusable mask.
Her third co-op was at product design consulting firm Fikst Product Development, where she will return full-time this summer after finishing her master’s in engineering management at Northeastern through the PlusOne program. “It’s a very open degree with electives. I took extra grad classes over the summers and online and ended my PlusOne with a semester of four graduate classes. Through the program I’ve found another passion which lies in the business and managerial side of design engineering,” she explained. Her experience in leadership on the Society of Women Engineers executive board has helped her discover this. “I take an organizational approach, looking at projects or goals for SWE from a top-level perspective.”
Tassel feels that her time with SWE as a leader has shaped her trajectory throughout Northeastern. She says, “I couldn’t have done it without the women in SWE and their support. I hope that I’m giving back to younger students what upperclassmen gave to me.” Community has played a big role in Tassel’s experience. “I’ve even lived with the same group of five engineers since we met in the freshman dorm. We’ve had each other’s backs,” she says. She feels that her second co-op helped her gain technical confidence with industry skills, so she was ready for engineering design independence for the third co-op and her full-time job. Her final co-op and PlusOne degree is leaving her ready to manage subprojects and be a leader in the future. Tassel says, “The goal is to get a job that you love with the skills you have, and I can’t wait to keep learning as a full-time engineer soon.”