Celebrating Women in Mechanical Engineering: Bridget Russell

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When Bridget Russell applied to Maryland Engineering, she wasn’t quite sure what she was getting herself into. But she persevered, completing her degree in 2015, while also finding time to be active in campus organizations such as the Society of Women in Engineers (SWE) and Women in Engineering (WIE). She also made her mark as an athlete, captaining a Division 1 UMD softball team.

Today, Bridget is a quality engineer at Integra LifeSciences (Formerly ACell, Inc.), based in Columbia, MD. In addition to her busy professional life, she is dedicated to assisting and encouraging the next generation of STEM professionals. She has taught STEM at Boys & Girls Clubs, mentored students through Linganore High School’s Lead the Way program and at Elizabeth Seton High School, and served as a program instructor for the summer camp organized by Women in Engineering at UMD.

Where/how did you get started on your mechanical engineering journey?

Growing up, I was always interested in math and science and I knew that engineering was some combination of these—so that set the stage for me. I was absolutely fascinated by my high school physics class and learning how the world worked, and this continued to fuel my interest in engineering. I still really had no idea what mechanical engineering (or any engineering) was when I applied to UMD's engineering school, but I had a few friends whose parents were engineers and I always found their careers so interesting. Once I was at UMD and taking classes, I finally started to grasp what engineering was in a general sense but I still did not know what I wanted to do. All I knew is that I wanted to put myself on the best path for any field of engineering. I realized that mechanical engineering was the best option for me to have the flexibility to go into pretty much any industry, and I stuck with it all of the way through!

Who/what inspires you?

My high school calculus teacher was a huge inspiration for me. She was an amazing teacher who I respected so much. She taught calculus in a way that made it easy to understand and would find ways to connect it to high schoolers’ lives. She was formerly a chemical engineer who had retired from industry to teach high school calculus. I have always been inspired to make something so complex (like calculus) simple and easy to understand and that is a guiding principle in my career for engineering. 

What has helped you to succeed in your overall personal and professional journey?

Connecting with fellow engineers and hearing their personal and professional journeys has helped me formulate my own journey. I have picked up so many life hacks from other engineers along the way to help me succeed. Whether it was reading a certain book about workplace happenings, or using a new app for studying for a certification to shortcuts on Microsoft office applications that make my life easier, all of these tips came from connecting with other engineers.

What advice would you offer to current students?

To the freshman and sophomore class of engineering students: Stick with it! There were countless times that I considered transferring to the business school because I thought engineering was too hard and that I couldn’t make it. If you have not already, find or create your own little group of like-minded engineers from your classes to study with. When I found my group of fellow engineers to work with, it helped immensely. I knew that I was not the only one struggling and that I could figure things out with the emotional and study support of others.

To the juniors and seniors: it's okay to not know what career/job you want! And even if you, do you know it's okay to change your mind? Read through lots of intern/job applications to get an idea of what types of positions exist—engineers do jobs that you cannot even dream up. Talk to as many engineers in industry (whether it’s someone you sit next to on an airplane or an alumni who comes back for an event) to just find out what they do. That will help you figure out what is interesting to you. And lastly, apply to as many internships and jobs as possible. Do not limit yourself to a handful of prospects and do not take it personally when you get rejected. There are a million jobs out there and a million people applying. You will find a position that works for you or you will find yourself taking something outside of your initial ideas but end up creating an exciting opportunity out of it. 

What have been some of your greatest personal or professional successes?

Professionally: Launching numerous new medical devices into the world that are used to help make people's lives better. One of the devices I helped launch was used to help save someone's life after they were shot in the 2019 El Paso, TX mass shooting in Walmart. Knowing that my direct work as an engineer has a direct impact on saving someone's life is so meaningful. Personally: Helping students and parents understand more about majoring in engineering and all of the amazing career opportunities. And also winning "Best in Show" for Cakes in the 2018 Frederick County fair with one of my mom's old cake recipes.

Published March 29, 2022