Curiosity opens the door to manufacturing career
Women MAKE award winner Jodi Cooper took an indirect path to success in manufacturing
Jodi Cooper got her first job in manufacturing in 2003, joining Rockwell Automation as a technical writer for the variable speed drives team. The business was sold to Baldor Electric Company in 2007 and subsequently became part of ABB when the company acquired Baldor in 2011.
Today, Jodi is among this year’s 100 recipients of the Manufacturing Institute’s Women MAKE awards, which recognize women who have “accomplished success within their companies and proven to be leaders in the industry as a whole.”
Growing up, Jodi was strongly influenced by the Challenger space shuttle disaster and had her sights set on becoming an astronaut. Accordingly, she studied engineering at Georgia Tech, until a fateful conversation with a professor sent her in a new direction. He asked her to explain how a rocket works but stopped her mid-response.
“I explained the concept but couldn’t do the math. He said, ‘Jodi, people will die if we let you be an engineer’ and that was that.”
But as in so many cases, as one door closed, another opened and she switched her major to Science, Technology and Culture, learning how to communicate important technical concepts in an easy-to-understand way. This played to her love of writing and gave Jodi a way to stay close to science. Then everything changed again.
“I was working as a consultant for chemical, oil and gas customers when 9/11 happened,” she explains. It was a pivotal event, a wake-up call to follow her passion.
“I put everything on hold. I went back to school and got a degree in journalism, and I ended up working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory before moving into the private sector.”
Fast forward to 2023 and Jodi is very much at home as an interpreter of technical subject matter, not to mention a team leader and mentor.
“I like learning about things and then explaining them,” she enthuses. “I tell stories so customers will understand the value or press will run it, for example.”
She had found her niche. Eventually she even stopped following the job openings at NASA. So, what is it about manufacturing that makes it so compelling?
“Everything we do is a solution to something,” she says. “Motors are used in all industries from mining to food production—each product helping solve a different problem. Telling the story of HOW is the fun part.”
Jodi’s career at ABB has featured more than one “open door,” as she progressed from one role to another. She started as a technical writer working with variable frequency drives, helped the marcom team with web site content, then moved to supporting marketing communications for the motor business.
“I worked on a strategic plan for the business,” she recalls, “and at the end of it they said, ‘do you want to lead this?’”
She did, and today Jodi works as Customer Communications Manager for ABB’s Motion business in the United States. Asked why she thinks women don’t go into manufacturing more often. Jodi is quick to answer.
“I think a big part of it is the unknown, not seeing many examples of women in manufacturing. There are more role models now, but women still don’t see it as a career where they can contribute a lot.”
Making an impact, though, is precisely what gets Jodi up in the morning and she sees manufacturing as a great way to do it. Even if manufacturing workers don’t always see the impact of what they do, they still know where the products go and what problems they solve.
“Without that person [in manufacturing], it can’t happen,” she says.
What advice would she give to young women considering manufacturing as a career? First, be curious.
“You don’t have to be good at it right away. Ask questions—the more curious I was, the more doors opened for me,” Jodi says. Being a continuous learner and asking lots of questions also put her on people’s radar, which in turn opened up more opportunities to try new things.
“I feel very fortunate,” she says. “I’ve been able to focus on activities I like that combine my interests in science, manufacturing, and communications. My advice for anyone is be engaged—that’s how you learn and discover new opportunities.”