Right or Left Brained? Stevens Alumnae Refuses to Choose

5/18/2012

They say some people are left-brained and some people are right-brained, but LeTisha Shaw (B.E., 1999) is doing everything in her power to forge a career out of using both.

Shaw, an Old Bridge, N.J. native, is the perfect definition of a renaissance woman. As a child, one part of her loved tinkering and all things science related. She’d stare at the rides in amusement parks to try to figure out how they worked.

“Looking back, I always was interested in physics, but I didn’t know that was the word for it at the time,” said Shaw.

The other part loved sports and dancing. She was an excellent athlete who eventually became a three-sport star at Stevens – a captain of the University’s first women’s basketball teams, a captain of the women’s soccer team, and track & field team member, where she specialized in the javelin. Today, she still plays competitive soccer and studies salsa dancing, which she was exposed to at Stevens.

“Sports were a way to ensure I could always exercise mentally and physically,” Shaw said. “They brought balance to my life.”

Initially, Shaw pushed back as engineering as a career. That’s what her father did and she wanted to be different. But after being exposed to design problems during a summer program in high school, she decided engineering was the perfect choice someone so interested in how math and science applied to the real world.

At Stevens, Shaw – a Mechanical Engineering major – stayed true to her dual-nature and involved herself in a vast array of assorted activities. In addition to three seasons of athletics, she was involved in the Black Students Union, Gear & Triangle, Khoda, and the National Society of Women Engineers. She was a regular on Dean’s List.

Shaw was a Stevens Exxon Scholar – a program in which Exxon grooms students to become potential managers and executives – so she also worked as a summer intern in various departments for Exxon, including research & design, mechanical engineering and utility systems.

“The design courses were the best because they helped me understand what engineers really do, and then my Exxon internships helped me figure out what kind of engineer I wanted to be,” Shaw said.

At first, Shaw thought she wanted to design amusement park rides, or maybe athletics equipment. She thought a master’s degree would help, so in 2001 she earned her M.S. in Mechanical Engineering as a GEM Fellow from Stanford, specializing in Biomechanics.

For the early part of career, Shaw searched around for a job that wouldn’t make her choose between her right brain and her left brain; where she could be a problem solver and a creative thinker. That took her to numerous companies and industries – from ABC Sports, where she worked as a video effects operator, to Merck, where she worked in manufacturing, R&D, operations management and finance.

Ultimately, Shaw decided technology-related strategy and marketing was the perfect field for her, blending all of her skills and interests into a challenging role that requires use of the whole brain. She earned her MBA as a Consortium Fellow in 2009 from the University of Michigan, and soon landed at Walt Disney Studios, where she’s worked on piracy management strategy for three years. As a senior manager, she is responsible for providing business intelligence to address piracy by analyzing the behaviors of consumers.

“It’s a combination of the all the things I love – designing, analyzing and consulting in the media and technology space,” Shaw said. “People don’t realize how much marketing and strategy have to do in common with engineering. Many of the analytical, critical thinking and problems solving skills I use at work today were fundamentals I was taught in my engineering courses at Stevens.”

She encourages current Stevens students to gain both technical and business acumen if they hope to distinguish themselves from others and achieve flexibility in their careers.

“Having both technical and business experience makes you well-rounded and allows you to understand your customer and speak their language, no matter who your customer is,” she said. “The ability to do that is extremely powerful and makes a huge difference.”

For a woman of so many talents, it’s hard to imagine Shaw staying put for long. She says Disney is evolving so rapidly that it is a constant challenge – and since that’s exactly aligned with what she wants, she plans to stay. But in the same breath, she speaks of becoming a life coach, a media strategist, or the owner of a business serving the needs of people with naturally curly-hair.

If she ever gets bored, Shaw has plenty on the side to keep her busy outside of her day job, whether its soccer, salsa dancing, volunteering with the church youth group, maintaining her blog on how to live a fulfilling life, or mentoring MBA students at Disney.

“I’m definitely someone who needs right and left brain activity to be fulfilled, probably like many Stevens students,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have found career which fulfills that need, and I hope they do too.”