Engineer Defies Expectations



MacKenzie Stangohr is featured in one of the videos that can be viewed at Dow's Careers in STEM web page

MacKenzie Stangohr is a people person who grew up in one of the most sparsely populated areas of the world. She’s a self-described girlie-girl who works in a hard hat, a jack of all trades who prefers shopping to tinkering.

And now she’s a video sensation, too.

Stangohr is one of a growing number of Dow employees featured on the Careers in STEM web page (www.dow.com/company/citizenship/stem/explore-stem.htm), which uses short, lively videos to illustrate some of the many jobs available to people with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

Stangohr has been a chemical engineer at Dow for three years. She works in a Michigan Operations facility that processes saran, the key component in plastic wraps and bags used for food storage. Day and night, the plant produces tiny white beads that are sold tons-at-a-time to companies that make the products everyone is familiar with. Stangohr helps keep the process running.

“I review charts, analyze data,” Stangohr explained. “If there’s a problem, I’m the first person the process operators go to. I’m in charge of environmental reporting, making sure we’re not exceeding our permits. I sit on safety teams, alarm reduction teams. I update processes. A jack of all trades.”

If that doesn’t sound like a typical job for a young engineer, wait until you hear how she got there. Stangohr grew up on her family’s 10,000-acre ranch in South Dakota. It was six miles to the nearest town, which sported fewer than 50 residents, and an hour’s drive to the grocery store. She was part of the biggest graduating class her high school had seen in years: 25 seniors.

“I liked math and science, so I went off to college to become a teacher,” Stangohr said. “But after a year, I knew teaching wasn’t for me.”

Encouraged by an uncle who was an engineer, Stangohr transferred to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City.

“I was absolutely terrified,” she recalled. “There were 80,000 to 90,000 people in the city. I grew up on a ranch. I was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone.”

It was an adjustment in many ways, she said.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m not as smart as everybody else here.’ It took me a while to figure out that most people were thinking the same thing,” she said. “I had some skills I could bring to the table.”

Stangohr soon saw the wisdom in her new career path, but not everyone around her did.

“When I decided to become an engineer, all my friends I went to high school with looked at me like I had grown a second head,” she said. “I think there still are some big misconceptions out there, especially in middle school and high school. People think the term engineer means you’re hammering and wrenching and doing things like that. The image of the engineer could be improved.”

Perhaps the image of a modern engineer should be more like Stangohr, who takes off her hard hat and safety glasses at the end of the day and goes home to her garden. Her husband, Wyatt, is a mechanical engineer (they met in college) who also works for Dow, and he’s the go-to person for repair work around the house.

“I like to go shopping. I play volleyball, softball and golf. I love to travel. I also sing in a band that plays shows around the area,” Stangohr said. “If you talk to me outside work, you’d never know I was an engineer.”