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Trio of female APSU alums making mark in male-dominated engineering technology field

By: Colby Wilson November 29, 2023

Alyssa Young, Zhariah Walker and Jennifer Stevens.
Pictured clockwise, from top left: Alyssa Young, Zhariah Walker and Jennifer Stevens.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - To start with, consider the following:

According to a study by STEM Women, since 2015, women have made up 15-21% of graduates in engineering and technology fields. If you’re not the best at math, that’s roughly 1 in 5—a number residing somewhere between “appallingly low” and “flatly flabbergasting,” depending on your perspective.

Austin Peay State University’s Department of Engineering Technology is not the largest program on campus, but it is punching above its weight in particular on one crucial point—sending women into the workplace armed with the skill set to thrive. Recently, a trio of Govs—Alyssa Young, Jennifer Stevens and Zhariah Walker—graduated from the program and immediately entered the workforce in support of local businesses Metalsa (Young), Hankook (Walker) and CDM Smith (Stevens).

The program at Austin Peay, under the direction of Professor Ravi Manimaran, helped prep this trio for life in the field and to fearlessly pursue careers confident in the skills they picked up at Austin Peay.

Stevens served as an intern at CDM Smith while she was a student, juggling studies, work and motherhood after she moved back to Tennessee. The professors worked with her as she traversed back and forth down I-24 to help balance her academic and internship requirements. She was so successful that the engineering consultancy firm brought her aboard full-time as a construction specialist, despite the fact that she still had a semester to go at Austin Peay.

“I tell colleagues, work with our students,” Manimaran said. “If they’re giving lame excuses, that’s one thing, but if they’re showcasing analytic skills and committing themselves to doing the work, be flexible with them. Make it as easy as possible for them to do the work; challenge them, but show them a different path is always available.”

Stevens was also talked into pursuing her master’s in civil engineering at Vanderbilt University, a fortuitous choice that has her on track for life-changing opportunities. It all follows a path she forged at Austin Peay, built on never getting stuck in one place and being open to new experiences.

“If I could tell someone anything about the experience, it’s to step outside your box and expand your horizons,” she said. “Don’t look at it as a lateral move; it’s not a lateral move if it’s a move to something you love. Job shadow, see what other people do, see what their day-to-day is like. Find out just as much about what you don’t want to do as you do about what you are interested in.”

Young is considering going further in her academic career as well, but the opportunity for practical experience fell into her lap first from Metalsa. Like Stevens, she interned first for the company before joining the team full-time as a reliability engineer. She might not have even found Metalsa at all had Engineering Technology Professor Matthew Anderson not encouraged her to attend a career fair where she connected with a recruiter.

Much of Young’s day is devoted to increasing productivity and reducing downtimes, relying on her knowledge to help improve assembly lines for the automotive solutions provider.

“I’m grateful for the belief Ravi Manimaran and the other engineering technology professors have in my ability to continue my education,” she said. “My Austin Peay degree has already helped me adapt and think on my feet. In my role, you have to be ready and willing to change and adapt.”

Walker, who was unavailable for comment, parlayed her internship with Hankook into a full-time position as a process engineer for the calendaring department. She develops process improvements through capital investments, investigates material nonconformity, aids in increased production and quality, manages inventory and conducts monthly forecasts for suppliers.

Both Stevens and Young credited Austin Peay’s Department of Engineering Technology for supporting them on their journey into the working world. The University hasn’t stopped being a resource just because they no longer have classes on campus.

“People at Austin Peay want to see others succeed,” Young said. “It’s a great community from a support perspective, and they provide so many resources that were helpful as a student and helpful now in my role.”