Alumna Dominique Gonzalez: From Stevens to Product Engineer at Fisher-Price/Mattel

12/20/2010

Since 2004, mechanical engineering graduate Dominique Gonzalez (B.E. `04, M.E. `10) has been a product engineer for Fisher-Price/Mattel in New York City.  True to the company’s mission of “Creating the Future of Play”, she is specifically responsible for the production of some of the most popular, innovative toys on the market.  For the average consumer, it’s hard to imagine all the work behind creating the fun children have with the latest toys, but listening to Dominique describe her role in getting the company’s products on the shelf – through the various stages of concept and design to manufacturing, packaging and distribution – cultivates a keen sense of appreciation for her job as well as the education she received at Stevens.

As product engineer, Dominique is charged with considering, first, if the toy design is manufacture-able, and if so, ensuring that it is developed through the production cycle, including debugging and safety inspections, ultimately making sure the product meets expectations in every way.  As highly sophisticated and complex as it is, Dominique describes her job as a fun place to be.  Considering some of her favorite products – Handy Manny Toolbox, Elmo Live, and the Sesame Street Cars– that’s not surprising. “In a job like mine, it’s actually ‘ok’ to watch cartoons and get excited about toys,” she said.  “It’s fulfilling to see my products in the stores, to see parents buy them.  Really, I get to make things that make kids happy!”

Dominique’s success at work and in life, she says, is linked to several factors.  Recalling her days as a student at Verona High School in New Jersey, Dominique pointed to her mother’s high expectations and how that ultimately led to her applying and getting accepted to Stevens. “I was always pushed to do well in school,” she said.  “A’s were expected, and if I was struggling with getting those, I was encouraged to find help and support. There were no exceptions.”  Her uncle being a mechanical engineer was also an influence. “A few things he told me about the field that inspired me: one, that mechanical engineers are versatile and two, engineers, generally, are taught to be good at problem-solving,” Dominique said. “At Stevens, that all held to be true. I learned to handle people and projects, how to organize them into an efficient whole.  Product engineer for Fisher-Price/Mattel, which was first a temporary position, was my first job in the field. I adapted to a complex process of product design and project management very quickly. I did a great job, and they kept me on as a regular full time product engineer. That really is a testament to my Stevens education and the support I received through the Career Development Office.”

Dominique is equally appreciative of the solidarity she had at Stevens, which she gained through several activities: varsity women’s volleyball, the Black Student Union (BSU), Latin American Association (LAA), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Stevens Technical Enrichment Program (STEP), and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).  “At Stevens, everyone is willing to help,” she said. “It’s challenging, for sure, but very supportive.”

The highlight of her experience at Stevens?  Senior design, she said.  And this is what she feels incoming students need to know if they’re weighing several colleges.  “Senior design is the most important hands-on dive into your major. It’s amazing,” Dominique said.  “Beyond the books, you seriously learn here by doing – like building mock ups, outputting information to the model shop, designing and running simulations.  By the time you leave Stevens, you understand and are confident because of this experience. It makes you distinct out there in the industry.”

Dominique’s senior design project won top prize at the New Jersey Chapter meeting of the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE).  The “Remotely-Operated Stitching Device,” was an exercise in pharmaceutical engineering.  Her team’s primary goal was to provide an innovative way to reduce, if not eliminate, invasive surgery. More specifically, the aim was to develop a method for securing an endovascular stent-graft in place from within the aorta using spiral Nitinol clips.  In addition to winning first place in the ISPE Poster Competition, the project won Stevens’ Technogenesis Award in 2004, and the team filed a U.S. patent for the device.  They also earned a National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Association grant. “I learned a lot during the senior design experience,” Dominique said. “And the highlights of the project were a big deal. We got to present in San Jose at a professional conference.  Most memorable for me, though, is having worked with Professor Zhengi Zhu, our senior design advisor. He is really incredible.  Working with faculty like him – very much known out there for his expertise, his research, and yet so available to students – is what you get at Stevens, and that makes all the difference.”