Name: Laura McAnany

Year Graduated: 1994

Degree: Chemical Engineering

Current Position and Company: Plant Manager, Ash Grove

When and why did you decide to go into engineering as your educational and career choice?

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by the mines and plants in which my dad worked in. Although he was an accountant, he worked in the mineral processing/mining industry, mostly in the construction of new processing facilities. I absolutely loved everything about these facilities and knew that I wanted to work in that industry for my career.

Engineering was always a direct route to working in the types of plants and factories that I loved, so that was an easy decision for me. More difficult was the type of engineering that I would study. Luckily, I had a fantastic high school chemistry and physics teacher who helped with developing my love of chemistry and set my course for a college major.

What was your experience like going through the University of Utah’s College of Engineering?

When I began taking my entry-level engineering courses, I joined a study group within the first few weeks of classes. This group of six worked, studied and played together. Looking back, I can’t believe how fortunate I was to meet amazing people who have had such an impact on my life. I still remember Professor (Phil) Smith commenting on the “esprit-de-corps” that we had over the course of our undergraduate career. Not only am I still in contact with the group, but I actually married one of them!

What did you learn most during your time here at the U?

When I was in high school, I never used a study group and typically did my homework on my own and it worked out just fine. I graduated near the top of my class, got a scholarship and was admitted to the U. However, I never really learned how to work together in a team – how to challenge others and how to learn from fellow students.

In my engineering classes, I honestly don’t know how I could have made it through alone! While I suffered in the early days from “imposter syndrome” (feelings of self-doubt), I found that my friends and study group were the most valuable resource, and I learned so much from them. The U challenged me in so many wonderful ways, and this concept of teamwork and support was such a valuable lesson that I carry with me.

Did you have a favorite professor, and if so, who was it and why?

Dr. JoAnn Slama Lighty was far and away my favorite professor. Her energy and drive, coupled with her support to the students, helped me through my courses. She was an incredible role model for me and was always willing to spend time with me no matter what it was I needed.

Several years after I graduated, I attended a professional seminar at which Dr. Lighty was also attending. Not only did she remember me but invited me to dinner with her colleagues and introduced me to so many others that I would not have had the opportunity to meet.

How did your education in the College of Engineering best prepare you for your career?

My education was well-rounded and exposed me to multiple ideas and concepts that were new to me. While this was a bit intimidating in the early days, it also helped me develop confidence to face tasks that have arisen over the course of my career.  I have found myself never afraid of a challenge, never afraid to tackle a new project, and never afraid to volunteer for something new. My education has allowed me to flourish, and I will always be grateful.

What advice do you have for those who have just graduated and are now entering the workforce?

The most important concept I learned was that it’s ok to fail. Failure is good, failure is normal; it helps drive us forward and to discover new ways of doing things. As new graduates approach their first jobs, understand that it’s ok not to know everything, it’s ok to ask questions, it’s ok to fail. It’s all a part of the development process.

I would also recommend taking the time to find a mentor. Whether it is a formal mentorship through a company or an informal relationship, it matters. The ability to work with a mentor for guidance, advice, and sometimes just to vent, is a powerful tool in your development; embrace this.

Looking back at the arc of your experience here at the U and where you are now in your career, how would you best sum up the value of the education you got from the U’s College of Engineering?

Priceless! I’m so happy with where my career has taken me. I’ve lived all over North America, multiple places around the world and have been a contributor to some absolutely fantastic projects. I’ve broken glass ceilings and challenged the status quo wherever I go. I have nothing but thanks for the U, my family and my friends for helping me achieve what I wanted and to be where I am today.