Toilet Paper to Electric Buses: Engineering in the Upstate

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Toilet Paper to Electric Buses: Engineering in the Upstate

Hooked on Engineering

I knew engineering was the place for me after the toilet paper class. A university professor was going through the design challenges of storing toilet paper rolls. How do you prevent it from running out too soon in a public bathroom? How many extra rolls is too many? How do you communicate which part of the storage container to push or slide to release the next roll? Suddenly, I was thinking about new ways to solve any problem around me big or small; I was hooked.

I’ve always been a builder girl. I used to build my little brother’s LEGO kits for him when we were little, telling him that building it was “the boring part” so I could do the whole thing. I went to as many air shows and lab tours as I could. When I sprained my finger on a trampoline in second grade, I made myself a splint to hold my finger straight for a few days. In college, engineering became an exciting real-world version of my childhood projects.


So What is Engineering?

In the Upstate, there are tons of different kinds. Mechanical engineers at Michelin test the shape of the pattern on tires to grip the road best. At Hubbell Lighting electrical engineers build new, more efficient power systems. Software engineers are designing apps for healthcare, shopping, and travel. At Greenville Hospital biomedical engineers are prototyping new lab equipment to analyze cell growth.

Engineering is

  • identifying a problem
  • finding all the criteria the solution must meet
  • testing possible solutions until you find the best one
  • using that solution a lot


Female Engineers

As for me, I’ve moved from toilet paper to zero-emissions electric city buses. I am a customer service and repair engineer at Proterra in Greenville. I help fix anything that breaks and find the best ways to make our bus easy and efficient to use and maintain. I’m 1 of 3 female engineers at my company, out of 50 engineers total. Some days can be challenging, but most days it’s rewarding! I feel lucky to work on a really hard problem and to see the payoff.

To me, girls have three challenges in science and engineering.

  • First is that boys are more often encouraged to focus on 1-2 things and hone their skills, while girls are more often told to either do it all, or not to try. Don’t be afraid to dive deep sometimes!
  • Second is speaking up and taking on challenges. I’ve seen the biggest improvement in this since I started working – I practice speaking up and people are mostly ready to listen. Let people know you’re up for the challenge. Often all it takes is to say, “Hey, I’m ready for this!”.
  • Third is finding mentors. I was fortunate to have an engineer for a mother, and she was a great resource for career advice. However, for many girls it may take some searching outside your company or field. Keep an open mind and you will find plenty of guidance!


By Sarah Hulseman

Proterra – Customer Service Engineer