MacKinzie Washington (BS, ME ’15) is a manufacturing research and development engineer with Boeing, where she provides production support to the company’s Phantom Works program and the MQ-25 Stingray uncrewed aerial tanker. She recently completed a six-month rotation as an industrial engineer supporting the 777X Aileron and Flaperon assembly lines as well as the automation cells for all assembly lines.
She has been named a 2022 Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference Modern Day Technology Leader and a 2020 Women of Color STEM Conference Technology Rising Star. She sits as the chair of the Boeing Black Employees Association in St. Louis, a mentor with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Buddy Program, and an active member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
UT also recently named her to its 2023 40 Volunteers Under 40 class.
Washington recently reflected on her time at UT and why she decided to go into engineering.
Question: What intrigued you about engineering growing up?
Answer: I’ve always enjoyed knowing how things work, so mechanical engineering seemed like the right path. When I was younger I would build things with my dad or help him out when he worked on his car, and I’d also take things apart to see if I knew how to put them back together. In high school, I was able to take three semesters’ worth of CAD, which really piqued my interest in design and understanding how to read requirements from engineering drawings. I also enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, so to me at the end of the day, engineering problems are just complicated puzzles that need to be solved.
Q: What made you come to UT?
A: I think I always knew I was going to go to UT. I’m originally from Johnson City, Tennessee, and UT was the perfect distance from home and was the right campus size (big but not too big). On top of that, UT has one of the best engineering programs in the state.
I also participated with the Tennessee Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation within the Office of Engineering Diversity Programs. It helped make me feel welcomed in a field where there aren’t many Black women. Through TLSAMP I was able to attend the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Conference, the National Society of Black Engineers Conference, and the National Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. (GEM) Conference. I was able to get my position with Boeing through my connections within NSBE.
Q: What memories stand out from your time at UT?
A: Lots of memories to choose from! The professor that stands out the most is Dr. Mark Barker (a senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering). If I remember correctly, I had him as a professor for four courses—statics, heat transfer, senior lab, and senior design—and I learned he was tough but fair. He was always open to students coming for office hours to seek help.
The first class that stands out is the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) course ME students are required to take. That class was difficult at first, and I remember struggling to understand the material, then one day everything clicked. It was a good feeling to finally understand something that I was struggling with.
The other class that stands out the most is probably our senior design project. We worked with a carbon foam that some graduate students in MSE were developing to determine if it could be suitable for increasing the efficiency of a heat exchanger for filtering salt water to a drinkable form.
What stood out the most was 1) building a working prototype and 2) learning the basics of welding. The graduate student we worked with was also a certified welder, so when it was time to make the prototype, each member of the team was able to take a turn at welding some of the pieces together.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned that is still relevant to your current work?
A: In full transparency, I don’t use much actual coursework in my day-to-day job as a manufacturing research and development engineer. However, there’s a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving involved that UT definitely prepared me for.
The thing I do use the most is probably my technical writing skills for project reports. After completing a project, I have to be able to write a sound technical report on what was accomplished both for my peers and for all levels of management.
The other thing that is relevant is doing group projects. I work on a team of about 18 engineers supporting five different programs, and we also work with multiple other teams to complete our projects. We had multiple group projects across several courses, so that’s something that translates directly to working at a large corporation.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about pursuing engineering at UT?
A: It’s ok to be nervous when taking engineering courses, and they do get harder but there are lots of resources to get help. Don’t be afraid to get tutoring either from the tutoring office within the Tickle College of Engineering or from your professors by going to office hours.
I also recommend joining different societies and associations such as the National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, Society of Mechanical Engineers, etc., because they open you up to many resources as well. Also, take advantage of the Engineering Professional Practice Office for internships and co-ops. They are a great resource for gaining access to potential employers with the Engineering Expo held every semester. I’d also advise you to seriously consider a graduate degree. Although I didn’t get my master’s degree from UT, that framework was placed there by two mentors I had while on campus. Without their advice and guidance, I don’t think I would’ve gone back for an advanced degree.