Dreaming Big – About 80 middle school girls visited TMMAL earlier this summer to learn about STEM and automotive industry careers.
As a little girl growing up in rural south Alabama, Jeneen Horton dreamed of a career in engineering.
And it’s a dream that came true. She’s been with the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama (TMMAL) plant for 16 years.
“Growing up, I helped my family keep things running in our house,” Horton, TMMAL’s environmental and facilities manager, says. “I always like working with my hands, so I majored in mechanical engineering. Then in 2001, Toyota started building in my backyard. Literally – they started building TMMAL eight miles from my house. I knew this would be an incredible opportunity, so I interviewed for a job. All these years later, I’m still here.”
Horton worked hard to build her career. But she also credits a strong network of female mentors in what’s typically a male-dominated industry. Now, she wants to give back. Earlier this summer, she worked with two nonprofits – the Southern Automotive Women’s Forum (SAWF)
and Girls, Inc. – to host the All Girls Auto Know event at TMMAL.
About 80 middle school girls from local, underserved neighborhoods were invited to TMMAL to learn about careers in the automotive industry. The girls were treated to a plant tour, hands-on activities and a career panel to learn more about STEM career fields.
“It’s so important to reach girls at a young age like this,” Horton says. “Somewhere around middle school, a lot of girls decide they don’t want to be involved in manufacturing. But by having these young ladies visit, I showed them a manufacturing plant can be a really cool place to work. And that it doesn’t have to be a boy’s club.”
As a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of women in the automotive industry, SAWF has awarded nearly $300,000 to female engineering students. Participants at the All Girls Auto Know event had a chance to meet one of them. Alexis Rudolph is an electrical engineering major at Alabama A&M, and a former TMMAL co-op.
Show and Tell – The girls had the opportunity to meet with women working in the automotive industry to learn more about their career paths.
“I loved meeting these young ladies,” Rudolph says. “They all have new ideas to bring to the table. I hope they follow their dreams and pursue STEM careers, no matter what challenges get in the way. It’s worth it.”
Amy Moffatt, senior manager in the operations management development division, is president of SAWF.
She says for many families in the area, a TMMAL career can be life-changing.
“A lot of them are from low-income neighborhoods. To see the excitement on their faces as they toured the plant was very touching. They just didn’t realize these kinds of opportunities are here. And without an event like this, they wouldn’t know.”
Horton echoes that point. And for her, it’s personal.
“As an African-American girl growing up in south Alabama, I never thought I’d be a mechanical engineer. Now I want to help others achieve their dreams like I did. I want to pay it forward to the next generation.”
By Kristen Orsborn