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Cherlyn Foster


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Manufacturing Manager, Finishing and Automotive, Alcoa
Davenport, Iowa
Age: 40
Education: B.S., metallurgical engineering, Colorado School of Mines; MBA, St. Ambrose University

What attracted you to the auto industry? I started as a metallurgical engineer and what attracted me to that engineering field was the ability to understand how things are made and to be a part of creating things that people use in their everyday life.
Coming out of college I was looking for a strong metals based company. I found Alcoa. What attracted me to this company was the technical team here felt like a really strong community.

First automotive job: I was a metallurgical engineer in our hot rolling area in about 1998. We were processing automotive so I had some projects as a metallurgical engineer in our hot rolling department.

Big break: When I was given the opportunity to move into production leadership. I became a general supervisor in 2004 and that put me on the path of being able to really grow my career.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? The biggest challenge I've encountered is pulling off our automotive growth project here at Davenport. Big investment, short timelines. So to come in here and be successful was really a challenge. We had a lot of headwinds in terms of the schedule and some of the new product applications we were going after and then just the scope of the project and what it meant for the plant.

Ford was betting their highest production vehicle on making this huge change [to an aluminum body] and then us playing such a big part of that, there was just basically no room to fail. We knew we had to succeed, we had to be on time and we had to deliver them the metal that they needed.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? A lot of what's going on right now with STEM education, I think that industries need to support that. The key is getting young ladies interested when they're seeing that maybe they're a little bit good at math or science, helping them understand how that's going to connect into a career that's interesting. That's what happened to me. Somebody came in and talked to my eighth grade science class about being an engineer and it connected.

Tell us about your family. My husband stays home full time, so that allows me to have greater opportunities for my career and also takes some stress off of our home life. My two kids are Rocky and Katie.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I think people see me as pretty straight-laced in the work environment so they're surprised that I enjoy getting out and having a good time, having an adventure, that sort of thing.

I did take some time this year to spend with some friends. Earlier this year my girlfriend and I went to Phoenix to see a U2 concert. That surprised some folks that I would travel and go to a concert like that.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Madeleine Albright. I saw her speak when I was in college and she just impressed me as a really incredible lady.

By Ryan Beene

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