A Cummins Inc. employee who has helped promote engineering as a profession for women and young girls will be honored for her efforts later this month.
Karen Ramsey-Idem, director of Global Technical Operations and Resource Strategy for the Components Business, will receive the Global Leadership Award from the Society of Women Engineers for her impact on the organization and the engineering community at an Oct. 27 banquet in Austin, Texas.
She will celebrate her 20th year working at Cummins in December.
Ramsey-Idem, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, said she was honored and surprised to learn she will receive the award.
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“I’ve written recommendation letters for others who were nominated. I’ve not been the person who has been nominated for the award,” she said.
However, the 53-year-old’s dedication to the Society of Women Engineers’ mission and her work within Cummins earned her the honor.
Ramsey-Idem is an example of leaders who “make it possible to remain a catalyst of change as we work together to empower women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and close the gender gap in engineering,” said Jonna Gerken, president of the Society of Women Engineers.
For example, during an assignment in India to grow the technical part of the company, Ramsey-Idem helped increase the number of engineers in the group from 125 to 400 in a year. Doing so increased gender diversity from 22 percent to 30 percent in that 12-month period.
“That’s what I look back on as a huge accomplishment,” Ramsey-Idem said.
She has held leadership roles within the Society of Women Engineers, including two years as regional governor of the Southeast Region, which includes Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Her involvement with the Society of Women Engineers began in the early 2000s when she and a friend looked for a way to interest girls in engineering and STEM careers. Ramsey-Idem’s two youngest children are girls.
Ramsey-Idem and her friend attended a Society of Women Engineers conference in Detroit where astronaut Sally Ride was a keynote speaker, and Ramsey-Idem said they knew this was the organization to make their idea reality.
What resulted was the creation of an introduction to engineering program in her hometown of Cookeville, Tennessee, first for middle school students and later high school students.
Ramsey-Idem said she’s thrilled by the fact that her oldest daughter will earn a mechanical engineering degree in May. The daughter will be present at the award ceremony in Texas.
An interest in engineering for Ramsey-Idem took root in early childhood, when she was about 4 or 5, because she was fascinated by her mother’s electric sewing machine and the pulleys and gears on her mother’s antique sewing machine.
“I wanted to be an engineer from that point forward,” said Ramsey-Idem, who also had an older brother who became a mechanical engineer.
She concentrated on math and science classes in school. Experiences such as participating in an introduction to engineering program at Tennessee Tech University while in high school, courtesy of a National Science Foundation grant, and two years in a co-op program at Kennedy Space Center for NASA while in college further cemented her career choice.
Ramsey-Idem’s path to Cummins didn’t connect directly from college. After leaving a job with Dow Chemical to pursue her doctorate, with the intention of becoming a college engineering professor, a friend who had joined Cummins asked Ramsey-Idem if she would be interested in coming to work for the company to help get some materials labs up and running.
The hands-on problem solving aspect of engineering and the company’s values of inclusion and diversity have contributed to that new job turning into a two-decade career.
“Every day I’m grateful I work for a company that has core values so closely aligned with my personal values,” Ramsey-Idem said.
Who: Karen Ramsey-Idem
What: Director of Global Technical Operations and Resources Strategy for the Components Business at Cummins Inc.
Resides: Cookeville, Tennessee
Education: Earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering at Tennessee Tech University
Family: Husband, Steve; three adult children