Mechanical engineer, female pilot, nonprofit founder, and TedX speaker: Leah Ochs’ list of accolades is just as unique as it is impressive. In our interview with Leah, she delves into her personal experiences, all while addressing ideas such as how to strategically network to advice on pursuing the STEM fields. Read more about Leah and the wisdom she learned from each step of her journey so far!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How you chose your undergraduate major, why you chose to pursue your MBA, what job position do you hold now, etc.:
Hello! I'm Leah Ochs. I have a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Nevada Reno. I currently work as the Manufacturing Engineering Manager at RIX Industries. We design and manufacture compressors of all shapes and sizes that can be found deep in the ocean on submarines and high in the sky on aircraft.
I chose Mechanical Engineering after a recommendation from a music teacher. I was approaching my senior year of high school and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was heavily involved in music but I knew that I did not want to pursue musical performance as a career. One of my teachers asked me what my favorite classes were and I explained my love for math and physics. My music teacher recommended I investigate engineering and I was hooked!
After I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I worked in the industry for a few years before I decided to return to school to pursue my MBA. I have always enjoyed learning new things and find that I get bored easily unless I am continuously learning. I knew I wanted to move vertically in my career and an MBA was a great stepping stone to do so. I worked full time and went to grad school at night and on the weekends. It was a big commitment but worth every sacrifice.
Was it difficult to balance schoolwork for your major and the work for your private pilot license at the same time?
Balancing work, grad school, and my private pilot license at the same time was a little overwhelming. At one point, I took a year off from flying. However, I believe it all comes down to commitment. I decided that I needed to either move forward with flying and get it done, or I needed to let go. I returned to flying and finished my PPL halfway through graduate school.
What skills have you learned from flying that broadly apply to your life as well?
Flying has taught me so many life lessons. From networking to problem solving, every aspect of my flight training has connected into my every day life. I love the new perspectives flying gives you. It forces you to look at every situation differently and that is extremely helpful as an engineer.
What is your advice for students (especially female students) interested in majoring in a STEM field and/or eventually pursuing an MBA?
Explore all avenues of STEM related fields. STEM relates to a near limitless amount of subjects and it is important to pursue what you are passionate about. Take a passion that you may not think is STEM related, and challenge yourself to find the STEM aspects within it.
Don't worry about being in a male dominated field. Use your minority status as a female to your advantage. You stand out, so stand out strong! I have built so many wonderful relationships through my pursuit in a STEM career and then my MBA.
I do recommend spending a few years in the industry before pursuing your MBA. It helps to have some "real world experience" for your MBA studies. I had a few classmates who were undergrad students that were going straight for their MBA and they struggled to understand real world concepts.
Some students feel a lot of pressure as they search for a job straight out of college. Did you know that you wanted to work for Click Bond when you graduated? What did you do during your undergraduate time that prepared you for your position with the company?
I did not have any internships as a student and therefore was extremely nervous about finding a job out of college. Well scripted resumes are helpful, but it really comes down to networking. I showed up to an ASME/SAMPE meeting that was cohort between the student and professional chapters. I had applied to Click Bond (my first job out of college), online. Rookie move. Apply in person, even if they tell you to apply online. Always show up and give them your resume in person. Online applications get lost in the weeds unless someone knows they are looking for your information there.
When introductions at the meeting were made, I learned that two vice presidents of Click Bond were there. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I stood up, pointed to them and said "I'm Leah. I will be graduating next month with a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering and I just applied for your company." The rest is history. Networking is crucial to job hunting. I am not a naturally social person, and networking is extremely out of my comfort zone. However, I understand the value in it and it is something I make myself work on for self improvement.
Feel free to add anything more you would like to talk about in general! We'd love to hear more about Gearing Up 4 STEM as well as your experience speaking for TEDx.
During my MBA studies, I took a class called Social Entrepreneurship. I have always loved the idea of coming up with an idea and making a business model out of it. I also found a passion in teaching young students about opportunities in STEM fields. From these two passions came Gearing Up 4 STEM. Gearing Up 4 STEM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps local teachers obtain funding for new technology and STEM experiences for their classrooms. My husband works as a middle school STEM teachers and after hearing how difficult it can be for teachers to afford new technology, training, and STEM experiences for their students, I set out to create an organization to support those teachers. We are still a very new start-up but we have Board of Directors consisting of STEM, Business, and Education Professionals. In our short time of existence, we have helped send students to the local Challenger Space Learning Center, as well as helped a local teacher purchase Solar Car kits for her classroom. I am excited to see who we can help next!
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk on Women in Aviation. I submitted a proposal for my talk in the summer of 2019 and was thrilled when I learned I had been selected to speak! The road to TEDx is not an easy one. I had monthly meetings with the committee going over my talk. My first meeting to review my script did not go well and I had to do a lot of rewriting. My monthly meetings got progressively better though and with hours upon hours of memorizing and practice, I was able to successfully give my TEDx talk. It was such a terrifying and fulfilling experience. If my talk inspires just one woman or young girl to go learn how to fly, I will count that as success.
To see more of Leah’s adventures and learn about Gearing Up 4 STEM, check out her Instagram accounts at @pilotleah and @gearingup4stem!