Raquel Knutson

Industrial Engineering, B.S. (1996); Chemistry, B.S. (1996)

Diversified Kit Product and Solution Supervisor - Caterpillar Inc.

Hometown: Taylor, ND

Now lives in: Washington, IL

Career path:

  • 1996 - hired at Mid-America Aviation as Test Data Documentation Tech
  • 1997 - joined Case IH Air Seeder Production Plant in Fargo as Manufacturing Engineer
  • 1998 - joined Case IH Steiger Production Plant in Fargo as New Product Introduction Coordinator
  • 1999  moved to Illinois and joined Morton Manufacturing as Account Manager for Caterpillars Wheel Loader and Forest Product groups (first female account manager in their 20 year history)
  • 2001 - joined Caterpillar as an Engine Application Design Engineer
  • 2003 - started at Caterpillar Emissions Solutions group as Repower Consultant
  • 2007 - became 6 Sigma Blackbelt
  • 2011 - promoted to Upgrade and Retrofit New Product Introduction Manager
  • 2015 - promoted to Kit Engineering Manager

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?

I chose to pursue a career in engineering because it allowed me to combine two of my passions. I love to do art, so creating things, and I enjoy being given a problem no one can solve and working to find a solution. Engineering allowed me to be able to do both and my career to date has involved both having to find solutions for complex issues and creating processes that sustain the solutions myself and my team come up with.

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated field?

Sometimes it can be a challenge. There have been times in my career that my ideas had been ignored because I was a woman and seen as not “grasping things as a man would”. I have been on teams where it was a challenge to gain the respect of the male members that I just might know a thing or two. However, those time have been few. For the most part my experience has been positive working in this male dominated field. I find most people see me as a knowledgeable team member, respect my opinions on topics, and treat me as a very valued person to have on projects. I would be lying if I stated it is all great, there is no stereotyping, and everyone is treated equal. However, I do see things moving in that direction, and have been moving more and more in the last 10 years. Most of the teams I am on see me and other women as people not male or female. I myself lead a team of both women and men. I see everyone as my team, not man or woman, and my team sees me as a supervisor not a female. Personally, I feel that is where we need to get to. 

What advice would you give to young girls interested in engineering?

What I have learned over my 20 years of being in this field is never stop trying and never ever stop your voice from being heard. I have been told I need to stop asking all those questions, or to stop pushing back so much, or my favorite “that can’t be done”. I see all those comments as a challenge to overcome. Never stop letting your voice, your feelings, your ideas be snuffed out. Just get louder or show the naysayers it can be done.

What’s your best memory from NDSU?

My best memory was my manufacturing class I had with Mr. Sully. I was not just the only female in the AMET class, I was the first female. We had a class in which we were using power tools to make check gauges, welding plates/brackets, basic manufacturing. We had teams of three that where assigned an issue from a manufacturer. Our issue was there was a bore on a check valve insert that was having issues coming out correctly so we had to make a go/no go gauge to verify quickly if it was on target or not. My team was myself, one football player (not stereotyping) and one gentleman from upper Chicago. Neither had ever touched a hand tool, let alone a power tool before. Myself, I come from a cattle ranch and grew up fixing anything that broke. So I ended up making the gauge by myself and the other two typed the report. Talk about reversing the stereotypical gender roles. We had a great time and some good laughs over it. Both gentlemen figured I saved their skins in that class. 

How did your NDSU education prepare you for your career?

NDSU does a really good job with its affinitive groups like the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to give, first, women a group to one vent to, and second, to see you are not alone and have support. I think that is key, to know there is support for you and you can do it. I also likes how NDSU did not put the spotlight on women, but treated it as we are all equal, all engineers and all a team. Sometimes I think we get lost and caught up in girl power versus treat me like a person, male or female, and NDSU did that.

What first got you interested in engineering?

Knowing if I pursued art I would be poor and broke. Engineering sounded like a much better career choice. But seriously, it gave me so much to choose from as a career. You can design, test, work in marketing, logistics, you name it the door is wide open. I like having options as I get bored easy. It is never boring.

Does your gender give you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts?

I never thought it did until one of my direct reports came to me and said, “I am so glad I am working for you. You care about me and what I have to say.” I think as a female we tune into people easier and quicker versus males. A female wants to know what makes a person tick, and we generally want to help people. I call it the mother instinct.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced being a woman in engineering? How did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge actually is when I work with a foreign country that still sees woman as inferior. It takes a lot to overcome that when it is a culture thing not a personal thing. 

What’s the biggest misconception about your job?

Really don’t have any. Most jobs at Caterpillar are all respected and have clear need designed into them.

What advice would you give to female college students just getting started in the NDSU engineering program?

Stick with it. You are going to hit walls, you will hit obstacles, but you can knock them over and it will be rewarding.

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