There likely are not many engineers at Boeing who began college as a film major. The odds against a Boeing engineer having been a film major as far away from Hollywood as Montana State University are even greater.
But, as she has proven in many areas of her life, it doesn’t pay to bet against Whitney Hill.
A native of the Pacific Northwest, Hill doesn’t have much in the way of a family background that would point her toward engineering. Her mother is a cytotechnologist with a degree in biology. Her father, she said, “is a talented landscaper who now works for the US Department of Agriculture.”
Hill, however, has a knack for math and physics, and her parents always encouraged her in those areas. Still, how did she wind up in engineering?
“By the end of my freshman year in Montana,” Hill said, “I finally admitted that I needed to treat higher education as an investment in myself, not just a chance to study the subject that looked the most enjoyable. So I took a year off to think about my next move.
“During film school, I had been taking the physics and calculus series of classes ‘for fun,’ so I knew I should choose something that would use those skills. When choosing between mechanical engineering and physics, I pictured a life as an engineer, designing things or problem solving in a factory, versus a life as a physicist, writing grants for research. The factory sounded more interesting, and engineering appeared to offer a wider range of possible jobs.”
“Once I decided to pursue a degree in engineering, it was an easy choice to go to Oregon State, as they have an excellent engineering department.”
At OSU Hill earned a BME. She also was a Formula SAE composites manufacturing and testing team member and a Boeing student engineer for 767 manufacturing engineering. In this latter role she investigated and documented processes of the 767 Final Body Join and Final Assembly.
After graduating she joined Boeing as a process manufacturing engineer for the 767/KC-46 Tanker airframe and structures. This does not necessarily seem remarkable—until you learn Hill has a reading disability.
“I have [an eye muscle defect] that causes my eyes to skip around the page,” Hill said. “I cope with it by reading slower because I have to make sure I didn’t skip some key words that change the intent of a sentence and create a misunderstanding.
“However, my reading disability has actually helped me in some ways, too. For one thing, it forces me to pay close attention to details. It has also helped my public speaking skills, because I am so scared to death of having to read aloud that I have learned to memorize things very quickly.”
And a quick study she is.
“Whitney joined Boeing just 4.5 years ago,” said Alan Frisby, Hill’s boss and the manager of 767 Airframe Manufacturing Engineering. “She has been performing more like a more senior ME. Recently she was appointed the lead of the Airframe Fuselage Process Engineering ME team with nine employees.”
Is this as far as her career will go? Don’t bet against her.
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read all of the 2016 30 Under 30 Profiles as a PDF.