At the heart of Shana Downs’ journey from Kettering to Harvard and back to the Midwest is her passion for manufacturing and desire to work with tangible products – two pursuits tied together with experiential learning along every step of the way.
Growing up in Canton, Mich., Downs chose Kettering because the co-op program would immediately engage her in engineering practice.
“I chose Kettering because I wanted to learn what an engineer did early in my education,” Downs said.
Downs graduated in 2008 with a degree in mechanical engineering while completing her co-op at the formerly named Intier and now Magna Seating.
“Magna was a rotational program so every work term I worked in a different part of the company - quality engineering, product engineering, industrial engineering at a plant, and research and development,” Downs said. “I had a lot of different experiences and I decided that I wanted to focus on the product side of things.”
After graduating from Kettering, Downs accepted a job as a design release engineer (product engineer) at General Motors Powertrain headquarters in Pontiac, Mich. There she had the opportunity to work on transmission gears for rear-wheel drive vehicles until 2010 at which point she decided to pursue graduate school.
“When I first got to GM, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school so I was deciding whether I wanted to get a masters in engineering or an MBA,” Downs said. “I really like working on products, but from a career standpoint, I thought it was better for me to go for my MBA.”
Downs was a Kettering Leaders Fellow and joined the group as a benefactor after graduation. It was there that her peers and fellow alumni encouraged her to apply to Harvard Business School as the school has a reputation of accepting Kettering students annually.
“I got accepted which wasn’t really at all expected,” Downs said. “I definitely think that Harvard recognizes what you can learn while doing your co-op. I was surprised when I went there for my interview that they had heard of Kettering.”
In a 2012 interview, Dee Leopold, director of admissions at Harvard Business School, was quoted on CNN as saying: "We love Kettering in Flint." In Downs’ opinion, Kettering does an excellent job developing leaders and providing opportunities for students to get involved in extracurricular activities which are two things that Harvard values.
“Harvard Business School teaches the case method, they are relying on a diverse group of students in the classroom who can teach their peers about any subject,” Downs said. “They are looking for students from all industries and functions, and they are looking for hands-on experience. I think going through the co-op, you are getting more experience than most.”
Downs’ experience at Harvard differed from her classmates as her focus was to return to the manufacturing sector while her peers were amalgamating in the services industry. After graduating from Harvard in 2012, Downs returned to the Midwest to become the manager of strategic initiatives for Goodyear Rubber & Tire in Akron, Ohio.
Almost six years removed from her undergraduate graduation, Downs can’t emphasize enough the advantage that Kettering’s co-op experience has provided her as it encourages a diversity of experiences that she uses to this day.
“Even right now in my strategy role, one project that I’m looking at is our manufacturing footprint moving forward,” Downs said. “I worked in a plant, so I can think about the problem from a manufacturing viewpoint or I can think through it from a technology perspective. Working in a variety of roles has given me better perspective.”