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Engineering Answers: She wanted answers growing up, now gives them

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Cummins engineer Zeynep Bruce’s curiosity about how things worked developed at an early age.

As a child, her parents had to provide convincing answers to her questions — otherwise young Zeynep would continue to pepper them with more.

Teachers noticed as early as age 7 that Zeynep had an aptitude for math.

As a child, she developed a keen interest in breaking and fixing electronic equipment, including video and audio cassette players.

So it came as no surprise to her family when she chose to become a civil engineer — though an uncle worried about her chances for success in the traditionally male-dominated field.

He needn’t have worried.

Bruce was named the 2012 Outstanding Young Engineer by SAE International, an association of more than 128,000 engineers.

Bruce obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Bosphorus University in Istanbul, Turkey, where she was born.

While at Bosphorus, where classes are taught in English, she met a professor, a Turkey native who had studied in the U.S., who convinced her to get her doctorate in America.

“I always wanted to go to the U.S.,” Bruce said.

Her doctoral degree project focused on helping the U.S. Navy figure out how to make ships stealthier by reducing the turbulence in its wake — or, as she put it, “Investigation of ship wakes using LES (large eddy simulation) with various SGS (sub-grid scale) models.”

Bruce speaks very fast, and frequently intersperses her sentences with engineering lingo and abbreviations such as RFG (random flow generation) and CFD (computational fluid dynamics).

She obtained her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 2004.

Before joining Cummins, Bruce worked as a product development engineer for Ford Motor Co. in Turkey. She helped develop a five-cylinder, 200-horsepower transit engine, focusing on air induction and cooling systems. The engine is being used in Europe in minivans and small commercial vans.

Bruce joined Cummins in 2008 in Darlington, England, as a cooling system technical specialist. In early 2009, she became technical leader of the newly created mission integration team, which used simulation tools to make sure that systems of 4.5-liter to 6.7-liter engines for the automotive and industrial market in the United Kingdom were installed to work properly with other parts, such as the transmission.

In March 2011, Bruce took a position in Columbus, and today she serves as global integration tools manager, making sure that the company’s engineers can properly support customers to assure quality installations of Cummins products in all industries.

Bruce said she is glad she turned down an offer at age 18 to become a professional backup singer, a talent she said she inherited from her father.

Cummins allows her to be innovative, she said, and she likes being able to interact with lots of people. Bruce said she also values the company’s attitude toward diversity, that employees are judged based not on their national origin or cultural background but on their contributions.

For Cummins, hiring the best and brightest employees from diverse backgrounds is critical to maintaining a technological leadership position, said Stephen J. Charlton, vice president and chief technical officer of the company’s engine business.

“At Cummins, we value diverse perspectives because they inspire innovation, and create efficiencies that may otherwise be overlooked,” Charlton said via email.

“We are glad to have engineers like Zeynep at Cummins,” Charlton said. “With a blend of many diverse and unique talents, we are poised to continue building products and offering services that exceed our customer expectations while leading to a cleaner, healthier and safer environment.”

The SAE award, established in 1996, is given to engineers in the off-highway or power plant industries. Applicants are nominated by other SAE members. Winners are chosen based on criteria including integrity, leadership and innovation.

Cummins employees have won the Outstanding Young Engineer award three times, more than any other company (though as many as Caterpillar). Of the 13 recipients, four have been women, two from Cummins.

Bruce said even being nominated was an honor, but she was happy to bring the award back to Cummins, which last won it in 2006.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” Bruce said. “I felt so happy ... and honored.”

Bruce and her husband, Douglas, whom she met while with Cummins in the United Kingdom, go back to Europe about once a year. They enjoy going to movies, eating in restaurants and taking walks in Brown County.

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