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While she didn’t set out to be on a mission to increase the number of women working in STEM jobs, Jessica Horaney’s career has led her to the ideal mix of professional achievement and advocacy.
Horaney has worked her whole career at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids.
“I just celebrated my 20-year anniversary in January, which is just wild,” she said. “I started at Collins when I was in college at the University of Iowa for electrical engineering.”
She worked her way up through the company in various positions until deciding to go back to school in 2007 to earn her master’s in business administration at the University of Iowa.
That’s when Horaney said she began to take on more formal leadership roles within the company, eventually making her to her current position on the enterprise engineering team, as Leader of Engineering Excellence.
“I actually support all of engineering across all of Collins Aerospace. … We're a global company with over 15,000 engineers,” she said.
“My job is to work with a small team to take on initiatives that help our company improve performance, whether that’s implementing agile practices, or LEAN principles or improving the project management disciplines to various elements of engineering in the organization.”
Horaney said she appreciates the scope of her work.
“I really appreciate the breadth of what I get to do, getting the opportunity to really connect with all types of engineers both globally in our International locations as well in the different sites in the United States,” she said.
“It’s really rewarding being able to learn a lot about our company, the differences in departments and what makes each part unique. But I also get to see across and see what is meaningful across the whole company, the things all engineering teams have in common and being able to help them get better.”
Perhaps what has most interested Horaney over the past two decades is getting more women into STEM careers.
“When I started in a STEM career I honestly was pretty naive to how under-represented women were until I got to college. I remember sitting in my college classes and I was sometimes the only woman, and while that was never a deterrent for me, I didn't realize that other women did see that as a deterrent,” Horaney said.
“It wasn’t until I started getting more involved several years into my career and I started listening to other stories about women who decided not to do engineering or leave the field completely because they didn’t feel welcomed or valued. I knew right away this was something that I wanted to help with.”
Horaney said the efforts started internally at Collins Aerospace, where they created a group called LIFT — Leading Inspires Women in Technology.
“We want to create an environment that supports female engineers and attracts the next generation and help women see themselves in this career field,” she said.
She also chairs a group that looks at how they get more female representation in the Fellows program, the highest level of technical achievement at Collins Aerospace.
This interest extends beyond her regular work day into Horaney’s volunteer efforts. She has worked a variety of K-12 efforts including Introduce a Girl to Engineering, FIRST Lego League, Iowa Girls Code Camp and Imagination Iowa programs.
“At this point, most of my volunteer activities have been working toward helping women be successful, whether that is a young girl may not have confidence and try to help them understanding that is hard but engineering is about trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn’t and coming up with new ideas,” she said.
And while Horaney’s work schedule remains demanding, she said it’s important to find time to give back to groups and organizations that mean so much to her, including with United Way, where she served as chairwoman of Women United group focused on women’s health issues, and at Young Parents Network, where she has been a long-time volunteer.
“When you find things that you care about and you're passionate about, you want to make a difference so you keep spending time on those things,” she said.
“It just gives me so much energy to see the impact I can make. Just one girl coming up to me and saying, ‘I want to go to college and I'm going to study engineering,’ is just so exciting to know you're actually helping make the change happen. It’s investment of your time and yourself but it pays off and the gratitude you feel for being able to make a difference is awesome.”
For those not quite sure how to get involved, Horaney has simple advice.
“If you want to get involved in the community, know that there are so many great nonprofits. Just think of the things that you're most passionate about and things that you can offer your experience and skills to helping with. It just takes a phone call or an email just to ask, ‘How can I help?’
“There's a lot of need out there, so if you aren’t actively volunteering today and aren’t sure how to start, ask yourself what you are passionate about and then make the call to get involved.”
Business 380 spotlights some of HER Magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.