Alumni Spotlight: Lindsay Sowa Q&A

Lindsay Sowa graduated from the University of Florida (UF) Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s (ISE) Outreach Engineering Management (OEM) master’s program in 2016. The OEM Program was specifically developed for working professionals with interest in a master’s in ISE with a concentrated emphasis in engineering management. In this article, Sowa tells us how this program contributed to her current career success.

Sowa is currently Manager of Facilities Operations Services for Environmental Programs at Walt Disney World. She was recently promoted to this position and explained that the OEM program gave her confidence to take-on the leadership role. She said that the combination of industrial engineering and business administration coursework not only strengthened her technical capabilities but also strengthened her management style and catapulted her career to the next level. Sowa offered that the OEM program allowed her to pursue new responsibilities and challenges within her company. In a recent interview with ISE Marketing Specialist, Tori Bryan, Sowa talked about her educational career and the specific steps she took that led her to where she is today.

What about the OEM program stood out to you during your research process?

“It’s likely a combination of things. One would be the reputation of being associated with UF. This is something that I felt that no matter where my career took me, or wherever I was in the country, a degree from UF would always resonate well. The flexibility of the program was also pretty paramount. It allowed me to merge my school responsibilities with my work and social life. It eased the decision of going back to school while maintaining a full career. One of the more attractive aspects of the OEM program was the not only the master’s in ISE, but the ability to further expand my learning capabilities with the concurrent MBA opportunity. I’m really at a loss of words on how to describe just how important those two degrees have been in forming me into not just an engineer, but an engineer who understands the business side and what it means to be a leader.”

What was it about having the management component that you enjoyed?

“The ISE degree specifically out of all of the other engineering disciplines provides engineers with skills that are most complimentary to business decisions. By layering on the engineering management component, I think the skills that those classes taught me helped form the leader that I am today. I don’t think I will ever be fully evolved into the leader I want to be, but that considered, as our company evolves, I am much more confident that I have the skills to change and update my leadership to better assist in meeting my company’s needs.”

Let’s back track a little. Tell me a little about your undergrad experience.

“I completed my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Delaware. I mostly chose this more so from a family consideration. My parents and my sister went there. As far as choosing mechanical engineering, I guess it drove my interest the most as an 18-year-old trying to choose a major, more so I would say than the other disciplines within engineering.”

How did you first become passionate about Engineering?

“I would say that I have had a knack for puzzle and problem solving ever since I was a child, but to be honest I always thought I would become a veterinarian. However, once I received some exposure to their work when I was in middle school, I decided I didn’t have the strength to operate on animals. While I was in high school, I was a part of a field trip opportunity to visit DuPont to spend a “day in the life of an engineer.” From that point moving forward, I felt engineering was the best way to combine my skills.”

How has this passion morphed into your career at Disney?

“I have been with Disney for almost twelve years now, and within that time I have had four different roles. I started off as a design engineer as part of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing team, and I was involved in the design and design management of facility mechanical systems such as HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection systems. After six years, I transitioned over to the animal sciences and environment line of business and became a part of the water sciences team as their project manager and engineer. This team was responsible for all management and operations of all water exhibits containing managed animal life within the company. It was interesting at the time because growing up I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and now I was able to combine my two passions, which is something I never knew was a possibility.

Next, I joined the facility asset management department and I was a project manager with that group. I was positioned on the Epcot team, responsible for construction project management and implementation of projects within Epcot.

The role that I’m in now is more of a utility division within the company, specific to Walt Disney World, and is responsible for the environmental programs, policy, and technical solution development and implementation.”

If you could go back and change your education and career path, would you?

“I am pretty satisfied with the route that I took, which is easy for me to say now. At the time, I couldn’t say I knew exactly what I was doing, but it was just sort of how my life took me from one thing to the next. I don’t think I would have regretted going and completing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but I don’t think I would have gotten the same return on my career as I did by deciding to wait and then receiving a degree in a different discipline that is so closely linked to business decisions. The benefit I am getting from that allows me to believe that this was the best decision I could’ve made.”

How does it feel to be a Gator alum?

“I do feel the fact that I am a Gator alum, it’s definitely something that you can feel. I feel a tie to the state and the roots I have developed here after moving down from the northeast. I didn’t necessarily feel like I belonged at first. Now that I can state that I am an alumnus from the University of Delaware and I am very prideful of that, but also, I am an alumnus of the University of Florida and layering on that Gator alumni portion, I feel truly connected to the area, the state, and specifically to my company that has such an imprint here in Orlando. You will come in contact with people in your career that put a lot of emphasis on where you graduate college, and when I can join in those conversations as they discuss professional partners that are also UF graduates, it is almost like an immediate level of trust that develops, which is something that is difficult to put a value on.”

The ISE OEM program recently celebrated the graduation of it’s 20th group of professional students. The program was started in 1996 and truly embodies the founding concept for the UF ISE Department, including providing advanced education in engineering combined with management coursework. To date the program has educated a total of 756 students. OEM graduates work in a broad range of industries, including manufacturing, construction, entertainment, education, defense and more. All our graduates have achieved major career accomplishments demonstrating the high caliber of individuals having completed the program as well as the quality of OEM instruction. The Program looks forward to many years of continuing operation as a leading engineering management masters program.