Epod Episode 4: Theresa Pelkey—An Alumna’s Perspective on Manufacturing Systems Engineering

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On this Episode:

On this episode, Justin Kyle Bush talks to Theresa Pelkey, the Manufacturing and Project Engineering Director at Kite Hill. Theresa received a bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and a master’s in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from UW-Madison. She discusses her personal and professional development and the challenges of working, studying and being a parent. She also talks about her experience in the MSE program and gives advice for those who are thinking about continuing their education—whether through a degree or professional development.  

Our Guest:

Theresa Pelkey is a Manufacturing and Project Engineering Director at Kite Hill where she is responsible for environmental health and safety program, maintenance reliability, capacity planning, and capital investment for two manufacturing locations. She has had 17 years of production and project management experience in both processing and packaging in food manufacturing. She has operations experience in leading, motivating, and coaching teams to meet production, safety, food safety, quality, environmental, efficiency, maintenance, procedural, and continuous improvement goals as well as proven success in managing large build construction projects. Theresa is a successful leader in the management of capital investment and capacity planning as well as development and implementation of maintenance reliability and EHS strategy. She received a Chemical Engineering undergraduate and a Manufacturing Systems Engineering master’s degree from UW-Madison. 

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Justin Kyle Bush  0:00   

Welcome to Epod, a podcast from the UW Madison’s College of Engineering’s Interdisciplinary Professional Programs. These podcasts are focused on big ideas and engineering and the people behind them. My name is Justin Kyle Busch, and I will be your host. On today’s episode, I talked to Theresa Pelkey, who is the manufacturing and project engineering director at Kite Hill. Teresa received a bachelor’s in chemical engineering, and a master’s in manufacturing systems engineering from UW Madison. On this podcast, she discusses her personal and professional development, the challenges of working, studying and being a parent. She also talks about her experience in the MSE program, and gives advice for those who are thinking of continuing their education, whether through a degree or professional development.   

Justin Kyle Bush 1:01 

Theresa, I’m excited to have you with us today. Thank you. 

Theresa Pelkey  1:05   

Thank you so much for having me.  

Justin Kyle Bush  1:08   

Let’s get started. So tell us a little about yourself and how you got into manufacturing. 

Theresa Pelkey  1:15   

Yeah, so I, in high school, actually, I was, I was in chemistry class. And our teacher had brought in an alumni student that who was an engineer, she came to talk about what engineering was, and I, I, anyways, we did this little exercise where we like solve problems in teams and groups. And I loved it. And she said, This is what engineers do, they solve the world’s problems, and they solve them in teams. And I was like, that sounds great. Like, that sounds easy. And so I really liked chemistry. And I really liked math at the time, and I did not want to be a teacher. As much as I respect teachers. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. So I said, Okay, I want to be a chemical engineer. And I knew nothing more than that, besides, I liked math and science.  

And so I went into engineering and, you know, I went to UW Madison, for my undergrad, and they do a really great job of, you know, promoting doing co-ops and interns in the career fair, and just, you know, getting experience and what you’re doing before you actually go to work. And so I, you know, like a good student I listened to my advisor, you know, they invite advisors that I went to the career fair, you know, put my resume out there, and I got it, you know, a job offer with a food manufacturing company, large food manufacturing company, and I took that job, and it was, it was amazing. Um, I in that experience, I got to work, you know, the packaging line and tanks, and I got to, and I just fell in love with watching stuff, like how it was made.   

I mean, I literally, I remember, I was so fascinated with a box paper, like, the way that the roller like flipped the tape and the boxes and folded and a case of Rector and how every little intricate part was totalized and sensors, you know, work to so then have a finished product. And then you know, palletizing machine after in a stretch wrapper, and I was hooked. At that moment, I was like, I loved it, I would stare at the machines and just watch every little thing. And then when there was a failure, like figuring it out, and, and I got to install a tank while I was on that project. And it was such a great experience. And then what really stuck home with me is you know, and I’d worked in, in places where I had been a team lead or things like that, and I got to oversee or supervise teams, you know, in those roles that I did. And it was amazing to the camaraderie to be on a team to stick through, you know, the ups and downs of manufacturing when something fails. And when something when you’re trying to accomplish a goal and, you know, you make some new production improvement or something, some, some change that makes your operator, your team member, their life better, and they’re just so thankful. And you know, they just a lot of the teams that you know, they’re just working hard to bring money home to their families, you know, so to be a part of that. I just like I fell in love.  

And so I knew I wanted to stay a manufacturing I was like, well, that’s great because somebody will you know, it’s okay, if you do an internship, and you don’t like it, you know, I knew some of my friends that were like, I do not like engineering like this does not work for me. And I guess I got lucky, you know, in the sense that I really enjoyed manufacturing and, you know, when you do engineering, you can go into so many different spaces and so I just, I was, I ended up specializing in food manufacturing, which always made me feel good because some other industries can be a little dangerous. And I was like, I don’t want to die every day when I go to work now mind you, I could die. In my work environment too, there are some dangerous things, you know, it’s like we have, you know, equipment that can kill you and things like that too. But, um, you know, we don’t make as much money in manufacturing because it’s low margins, but it’s rather than a tech world or something like that, but at least everybody eats, you know, so it no matter what, it feels a little stable in that sense. So, I’ve just done, you know, kind of gravitated that way and stuck in the food world, it, um, I love how we nourish the world, you know, with food. And also, you know, how important it is to be employees are safe, and the food is safe, and everything that comes with that.  

So that’s what has kept me got me into manufacturing, and then kept me into manufacturing all these years. 

Justin Kyle Bush  6:01   

Not to go off topic, but I know where you’re talking about food. So, what is your favorite food? 

Theresa Pelkey  6:08   

Um, I don’t even know if I have a favorite food. Um, you know, over the year. I have a favorite, I have favorite foods, they’re not very good for me. So, I don’t get to eat them as often. But I think I really love, um, this is this is really funny, this is a little bit like it’s into my world. Favorite fruit is probably pineapple. My favorite food, I always have to say yes to is crème brulee, if it’s on the menu, I have to have it. And I always have to say yes, to addition, it has caper. 

Justin Kyle Bush  6:45   

I really like capers and interesting facts about myself. I, I like food, but like my go to thing is Good & Plenty like, everyone dislikes Good & Plenty. Anytime I go to a store, I will push like 25 boxes into my cart. I love Good & Plenty. So that would be my background is working, manufacturing and Good & Plenty. 

Theresa Pelkey  7:08   

Yeah, there you go, I’m gonna get you know, the one the things that stick with you that you always are, you know, especially if we know how they are made, it makes it even better. 

Justin Kyle Bush  7:20   

It’s great to hear how you got started in manufacturing. So your career is pretty impressive. What helped you succeed when you move from a large multinational to a startup? 

Theresa Pelkey  7:32   

Yeah, um, you know, when I worked at the big company, it was, you know, it’s a great experience; big companies have lots of money, they can give you experience in all sorts of things. And I learned a lot, a lot about process and a lot about analyses and risk analysis and structure and which is great, you really do need some of that, you know, in your background, and, but I really, you know, I wanted to make a difference.  

Flickr or, you know, big companies take a little while to make things happen. And you have ideas, and you have a corporate structure and lots of, you know, lots of decisions and approval processes and things like that. And I just, I wanted to have a say, like, quickly, you know, at the local level. And so I got this opportunity to work at my current, you know, my current company, and I, you know, my current company, Katie Hill, and I, it was a startup, and I had never worked in a startup, my sister had actually worked in startups before, in, she’s in, like, genetics and microbiology, and she had worked in a bunch of startups in the San Francisco Bay Area. And, you know, I did the pros and cons, you make a lot less money. I’ll tell you that much. Right, like, so you have to take and, and you have to you, you work a lot of hours, I would say in the sense that there’s a passion behind what you’re doing, because there’s not a lot of you on those teams. And so, you know, everybody has to step up and do a lot of things they’re not used to doing on the startup and, but there’s, there’s, you know, this whole energy in the space that really helps you start like, you know, going through the ups and downs of startups.  

So when I moved from the big company, to my small company, I remember my boss at the time these moves so quickly, so fast, changes happen. They innovate so fast, new products are launching, like very fast. I remember we had gone to a you know a customer and said we’re going to make this product and we came with like four different you know, I think it was like six different flavors of this. This product we wanted to do and they, they said we want it, we love it. But stores, you know, have resets every certain amount of timeframe, so they only reset their shelves every certain amount of, you know, a certain time. And so you need to either be ready to launch on their store reset, or you miss that whole round. And so, you know, we go into these buyer meetings and they taste your product, and they say, yes, okay, we’re ready. And then you have to be ready to go with that product. And, and my boss comes back, and he’s like, they’re taking it, they want all of it, but we have to install it in the next three months, it has to be running and installed in three months. And I’m like, what, I had never done a project that fast. I mean, everything at my previous company, it had been, you know, could take years to do a project or more, you know, we work through every design. You know, multiple iterations, every risk analysis, talk to every safety, you know, safety manager, quality manager, every review made, its reliability, all that stuff.  

And I had to really get comfortable with, not perfect, right? Like, my manager kept telling me, You’re too corporate, you’re too corporate. And I was like, what, like this, I just tried to make sure we don’t, you know, this is perfect, and he’s like, you can’t be perfect. Your inaction is too slow, like inaction is worse than just putting something out there. And, and, by the time you get it, perfect, we’re going to already change it. Like, it’s going to be a new process, a new end, you know, at my time, so far, I’ve been there five years, we started with, for example, 400 cases a day. And we are now doing of our product, right, we make cheese products, and now we’re doing 6200 cases a day. And that’s only in five years. Time, that grows.  

Justin Kyle Bush  11:52 

Of just cheese products?  

Theresa Pelkey  11:54 

Yeah, yeah. And, um, and, we, we had, and there’s a lot of things, you know, you have to be comfortable with, in a start, you have to be okay, with your stuff that you worked on getting tore out. Like the next, you know, like, I spent an entire summer, um, you know, launching a new product line. And then six months later, they tore it all out, because it wasn’t successful, it wasn’t working. But one of our things that we pride ourselves on as a startup is to be first in the market, because those big companies, they’re going to come with all their money, and come with all their, you know, all their stuff later. And they’re going to make something similar to what you’re making. But, you know, you want to get your tried-and-true customers at the beginning right away, and hopefully, they stay with you. And then as you grow, you can like, bring your price point down.  

But you know, we had to, I had to be okay, with, yeah, just moving forward with something, even though it wasn’t perfect, you know, like using Excel instead of these big systems and these different software programs. And, and one of the things you also have to do at a startup is, um, you know, I collaborated a lot. So, I would use everybody else’s ideas. So, everybody’s new at a startup. So right, so even though you have 20 years of experience, that product, you’re making that company is new, and still…  

Justin Kyle Bush  13:20   

Don’t they make you and startups work very independent, at the same time too, where you sometimes are working on a project by yourself, not always knowing everything, and you’re bringing other people and, correct me if I’m wrong, that’s my interpretation.  

Theresa Pelkey  13:35   

Oh, yeah, because there’s not enough of you, right, so you don’t have a you don’t have a safety. It depends on who you are. But you, let’s say you, you know, don’t have this, one particular thing you use at a big company, could be some analyses that you can quickly get a report out, but maybe you don’t even have any of those systems. So you have to then, devise something of form or a process, to just start to collect the data, you need to be able to do what you want to do. Or if you need, you need to do something, you’re the one to do it. Like so, because there’s not a lot of you on the team, right? There’s not this big company with like, all these layers. So you know, if it’s something you’re passionate about, or something that you, you really have to prioritize the things you work on and the passion you have. And you just take little bites, you know. 

I have, everybody that joins our company, it’s an overwhelm of things to fix, right? Because they come from a big company that has all the processes in place. But what’s really cool about the mentality you have is that you want you have to want to improve, make change. And that comes in a startup. It’s just because that’s innately what we’re out to do is like to be a disruptor in the market or to create something new that no one’s ever made. And so those are the types of people you want to hire the people that are not okay with the status quo. That’s also something you had to fix. Design is like our hiring. And really like fine tuning the type of people you bring into your organization need to be wanting to like, it shouldn’t, like, change the status quo. And not everybody fits in that space. And you have to be okay to say goodbye to people who, like, people come and go in startups a lot, right? Because as you grow, and your different levels of the organization, you need different skill sets.  

And it’s okay, if some people get in, come in, and some people leave, and then they leave, they put their mark on the place, and you take you take their best practices and keep moving forward. So, I think it’s just being adaptable and nimble and, and really collaborating with the team. And really, the biggest thing that has helped us, me succeed, is knowing how valuable people are. Because you really, you really have to rely on people and you got to create really good teamwork, because you’re fighting through a lot of like, failures in our space, right? There’s like the ups and downs, and the failures and things that go well, and the upsets and, and you need to have your team there to go through that with you. 

Justin Kyle Bush  16:18   

So, talking about you moving from a large multinational company, to a startup, how would you describe and talk about your personal and professional development? 

Theresa Pelkey  16:34   

I think I’ve always tried to stay relevant over the years of my career, you know, I had some great, I would take mentors are important. Finding mentors, and its sort of naturally happens, it’s not like, you can just go up to somebody and say, can you be my mentor, you know, maybe you can, I mean, if it’s, it’s a good a good colleague, but sometimes they just naturally happen, you don’t realize they’re happening, but there’s somebody that’s been important in your career, or a coworker that you always, you know, bounce ideas off of, and they end up being your mentor. And staying in touch with them, you know, is super important, because you talk through things and you get networks, right? So, say, hey, I need some help with this one thing you can you tell me somebody in industry that’s good for this, or a place where I can look for this kind of information. So that’s one thing I do is like, really stay in touch with mentors.  

 I also, you know, I continued education. And so, I’ve done some, I’ve done some personal development in, you know, an organization called Landmark Worldwide, I’ve also spent a lot of time with an organization called Project Management Institute. And I guess, in both of those spaces, it’s just, it is conversations, and with other professionals that are out to do more for themselves, right? So they’re out to, and when you when you surround yourself with people that are also always trying to, like grow in some way, it helps you continue to grow rather than, you know, sitting, I guess, scroll through our phones or whatever, like, in the evenings, you know. I feel, which we do, right, like, it’s a great to, you know, relax in some ways, but I think it’s been important for me to feel relevant, you know, to keep my mind active, has really been important for me.  

And, you know, I’ve also tried to be healthy, so is it really aren’t the greatest at it, but you know, exercising and, you know, doing what we need to do spiritually exploring and things like that are, you know, important for me.  

And then I also volunteer, I think that, as an engineer, we have one side of our brain that does a lot. And I tried to keep an artistic side of my brain. So, I play, I play an instrument, I play French horn, and I play in community of bands and orchestras, as a volunteer as we give back to the community through music. And so that helps me keep my artistic side of my brain going so that it’s not always just one side. So, I feel like, that helps me take on the world of work sometimes, is that other release of something. I know some people you know, hide or get into nature and, and do different things like that. I mean, it sounds so like everybody says, this is what you need to do. But when you actually buckle down and do it, it can make such a huge difference to sit to focus on some of that other side of your mental health, I guess. 

Justin Kyle Bush  19:41   

Well, I will share I don’t play an instrument but I felt like if I wanted to play an instrument, I would want to be the drums. So, like even when I go to, like I watch college bands, like watching the people that play the drums, I feel like that would be the best thing. Like they just seem to get into it. So, into but now to like, go on your little horn thing, but I always feel like people try to pick a French horn, or just a horn in general. And I, from what I’ve heard, they’re not the easiest to play. So, I don’t know, like people always go, oh, I’m going to pick that. I would pick the drums, but it’s probably not easy. 

Theresa Pelkey  20:18   

Yeah, you know, it’s kind of funny, I ended up with French horn actually. I played, you know, I played all my life since I was in fourth grade. So, I, I got it, because all the other instruments, I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, we didn’t have money. And so, we, every kid that had money, they bought the instrument they wanted and that’s the one they got. And so, then we actually could rent a French horn from my school for $25 a month. And so that’s how I ended up one French for not in any other reason. Um, and, you know, I, you know, I fell in love with it, you know, over the years, but you know, drums, we have drums in my house. So, I have lots of musical instruments at our house. So, we have all sorts of drums, we got a keyboard, we got xylophone, you know, and you can buy this stuff on, you know, Facebook marketplace, or on Craigslist, or whatever you use to purchase like, you know, aftermarket stuff. You can buy this stuff for like 20 bucks and have some fun in your house to like, let off some steam we play. We just have fun every night. You know what I’m cooking dinner, you know, my husband plays and stuff. So, you know, with our son and so you should get a little drunk to have it in the house. 

Justin Kyle Bush  21:27   

That’s when I should, I should get drums. I mean, I always play my little violin because I want people to feel sorry for me. So, you decided to go for a master’s here at UW Madison, what challenges did you have working and studying? Like that you can share with our listeners? Like what were your challenges? And what can you help people who may be dealing with the same things? 

Theresa Pelkey  21:54   

Oh, geez, yeah, I, I did have ups and downs throughout the program, I think in the sense of like, Did I get it right? Did I get it perfect? Was I that stellar students that I had this vision that I was going to be? Like, not always, you know, I’ll be honest, and it’s okay. Because, you know, I think that you work into your schedule, what works for you.  

And one of the things I found that was really important was upfront, having the support of your company, is super important. So, I think I did that the intro, the intro to the program. UW Madison does a great job with getting you prepared to be an online student. There’s like this free class that you take.  

Justin Kyle Bush  22:47 

Online, yeah, the online student. 

Theresa Pelkey  22:49 

And I was like, oh my God, thank God, I took that because I would have never done the things that I did without taking that class because it tells you all the things you should do to prep, to be a student, and to be a good student as an online student. So, or to even just take on going back to school, when you’re working full time. And so, you know, I, I talked with my manager. Now, we’re a start up, so they didn’t pay for my degree, that’s for sure. But, you know, they said that they supported it. And that’s important because you do need to what’s so great about the program is that you actually do, you use your own work data in a lot of the classes, or you apply what you’re learning to work, or your assignment is go do this at work and come back and like write a paper or something, right? So you have to have support, you can’t fake it, you know. 

And then, I was on a different time zone, right, I was in California and so at the time when I started. So, some of my classes were while I was still at work, so I had to feel okay, with taking the time away from work. And so, you know, leaving work to go to a class and feeling confident about doing that or feeling confident about interviewing a coworker about something related, that’s all important. So, your company support is very important.  

And then also, you know, your support of your family is really important. So, before you apply, you want to have the conversation with your significant other, your partner your family. Because there were holidays that I was doing homework, right, like up until, you know, I would come home, I fly home to be with my family and I would be writing a paper that was due right before Thanksgiving dinner. Or you know, I was you know, quick knocking out something that needed to be done or doing some programming thing or something right that I was trying to get done before. And so, you know, my family knew and they knew this is like okay, this is what I’m committed to, and my husband. 

I spent a lot of weekends. So, I was a marathoner weekender, to be honest, and that’s what worked for me, because I, my brain was just right at the end of the workday, and I knew that I couldn’t do work in the evenings, I, because I would work so hard, you know, I work so hard at work, and I just, I couldn’t get, you know, I fall asleep or something while reading. And so, I didn’t do a lot of homework in the during the week, and I would spend most of Saturdays and Sundays, and my husband would have to take care of our son during that time. And so, it, he knew that this is what we were committed to as a couple. It was important and so like having that conversation upfront.  

So if I, you know, if I apply, and I get accepted, all right, you know, can you support me during that, that was something I’m very glad that I did, as you know, as I prep for this, and, you know, I would say, other challenges I had, were being a startup, we didn’t have the data, I didn’t get to always apply the things I wanted to at work, it doesn’t mean, it was bad, I learned a lot, I can still apply them. But, you know, we ended up using a lot of other students’ data, ones that had easy to pull software systems that we, we could pull, because as a startup, we didn’t have, let’s say, I wanted to track downtime on something, I would need to go and create a form and then go collect the data. And then you know, versus somebody else has, like, you know, 15 years of that data in their system or something and ready because they had more robust, so a lot of times we ended up as we did group projects, we used other students’ projects. So, you know, that made me feel a little sad sometimes. But I, you know, I still have that with me now that I can like take that forward into my organization.   

And another thing that would it is important is to have a laptop, I would say, or something, because I actually traveled with it. And I had a, you know, my husband would drive when we would go to like family or family outings or things like that, and I would look into my little world, I will be doing homework in the car, as we were driving typing or something with mobile hotspot. And so, you know, that was how I would get it done, as we were doing family activities, or cell phones, something like that, you know, I’d be able to take my laptop with me to quick get it done, or, and then at work, I um, you know, we didn’t have a lot of conference rooms or things like that. And we were in an open office setting. And so, I sometimes would take my classes out in my car in the parking lot on my laptop. And so those are some things that I adapted to, to be able to make it all work, I guess with life in general. 

Justin Kyle Bush 27:52   

Wow. So, I can’t believe that you worked, studied, had a small child, and you’re back in Wisconsin, but you moved from California, so moved across the country? How did you find time to do it all? And what tools did you use to prioritize? I know that you kind of talked about it. But if you wanted to expand a little bit more, it’s totally up to you. Free Range?  

Theresa Pelkey  28:17   

Yeah, I think well, some of the things I had to do is block my calendar at work. Um, so I had classes, sometimes lectures, the cool thing about the program is they actually have real lectures like in person, it’s not just all recordings, I mean, you can watch the recording if you want, like if you miss it. But if you want to interact and ask questions, and be part of an actual class, they’re all like that. And I think other programs in the world like country aren’t like that, necessarily. And so, um, but my classes were sometimes during my work because of the different time zone. And so I definitely had to block my calendar at work. I also, um, I did limit some of my extracurriculars during that time, I think I just, it was important for me to say like, this is what I’m focused on at this time, you know, like I saw, I did take a break from playing my instrument in the big groups, and I did take a break test on my other volunteer activities or whatever. Because I said, okay, this is my focus now, at this time, because you just, you know, we don’t have enough for our own mental health to be doing so much stuff like, go, go, go.  

And then, um, you know, I also was one of the things that was cool as I communicated. I stayed in communication with my advisor during, well, during life changes. I know that some of our students had, like my co students, my peers, they had, you know, significant life changes, you know, like new jobs moving across the country, and maybe we don’t talk about that stuff in our lives as often as we should. And, you know, even with our managers, right, tell them what’s going on and you know, you can adjust your workload or do different things.  

And so, when I, when I was pregnant, you know, I actually told Susan, before I accepted the program, that I wanted to have a baby. And I was like, I don’t think I could do this, like, how am I supposed to have a baby at the same time as getting my, you know, my master’s degree? And she’s like, oh, I think she had probably, I think multiple children when she was getting her Master’s, they should she mentioned to me, so she, I was like, okay, I can do it. So, when it actually finally, you know, happened, you know, we worked together to create the program and rearrange, like, which classes I took when I heard them. That made sense. So, some classes do have a little bit more of a workflow, you know, and some require more student meetings, like, you know, you have a group in your meeting, like, you have the lectures, and then you also have to meet with your group multiple times a week, and then other classes are a little bit less intensive.  

And so, you know, we worked to create the program that worked for me, so when I was pregnant, when I was on maternity leave, and things like that. So, what would work well, based on workload, and so I think it’s important to have those just to be open and have those conversations about, as well as when things were happening in my life, that you can have a conversation with your professor, like, if something’s something happened this week, like, the cool thing about this program is that we all are working full time jobs. And things happen, like the work has some crazy, you’re your work has some crazy thing that happens, and you need to work, you know, a bunch of extra hours. And, um, you know, professors were so understanding if you just be in communication, rather than say, well, I’m just going to fail this week, you know, or something like that, like some of them would grant extensions and things like that if you had a conversation about what was going on your life. So, I think that’s also one of the things I would recommend to anybody doing something like this, such is to be in communication about what’s going on in your life. 

Justin Kyle Bush  32:04 

Yeah. Well, you kind of shared a little bit about this, but if you want to expand even more, what did you like best about UW Madison’s manufacturing system experience? So, I know you talked a little bit about like the work life balance, but was there anything that you could have used from the program into your career? What helped you advance more in your career? 

Theresa Pelkey  32:27 

Yeah, I think. I was just blown away by it how long it was to learn relevant, courage, industry stuff. You know, I, I had been working for a lot of years and so you just get into the grind and I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like you and your brain is. I just wonder what’s out there, and so for me, being exposed to a lot of other students that were doing cutting edge things and we are dealing with the pandemic at the time and like, how are they handling it? We talk about that in class. That would be one of our discussion topics would be how, how are you dealing with the pandemic and as an or how a supply chain affected your industry or things like that. And that’s so great because I could bring that back and have conversations with my manager about, you know, we should do something like this or we should, you know, things like that. And or it would have me explore other technology solutions and reach out to different companies based on what I was learning from other students in the past.  

For me, that was awesome. Just being able to apply like current technology to my work was, was really valuable and I think that the professors and teachers are guest teachers in the programs are so passionate. I don’t know if because I’m at a different age or what, maybe, maybe the teachers were always passionate undergrad program. I’m not sure and I wasn’t paying attention. But I think, you know, there’s like a little bit of a sense of a peer type environment like our professors were learning from us because we’re in industry and then we were learning from the other students. So, it’s just this fun, collaborative environment. And then there was so much passion from the professors on how to deal with being relevant or how can we use the experience from the students to incorporate into our classrooms? And you know, there was always a survey and the professors would take with the feedback they were getting and incorporated into the next half of the semester.  

And so, it felt like you were really designing your experience, as you know, because they would take that, you know, and they were so passionate. It’s like it’s hard not to get passionate about the topic when the teachers are so passionate. You know, it’s like that made it just go by really, really fast and made you love learning about that new technology because they were so interested in what they were teaching. So, to me, that was a really great thing that UW Madison has to offer, and I didn’t take a program anywhere else. So, I don’t know what other experiences might be. But like, I was really impressed with that, that dialog and that interaction that we got to have with the professors and the students.

Justin Kyle Bush  35:46  

I mean, it shows being a double badger of someone who got their undergrad at UW Madison and then came back to them for their masters, so it seems like they’re doing something right for you to be a double badger and do undergrad and grad. So, for individuals thinking about advancing their knowledge, whether in a degree or professional development courses, what advice can you give them? 

Theresa Pelkey  36:10  

Yeah. You know, getting my degree pushed me to new levels professionally much quicker, I think, than I would have thought there naturally. Now you can always get there naturally as you have your bosses and you work through your development. But you know, the way that we had to present our, our assignments and the way that we had to like gather information and data and just it refined me in ways that I was surprised by. I didn’t really, and I was naturally incorporate, incorporating them into how I presented information to the leadership team at my company or things like that. So, things I had gotten from the classes I started to do, you know, like, how do I? How do I write? Professor, how do I do my presentation so that it’s in a format that is what we did a lot? We may do a lot of presentations in and in our classes, and to report your results or your data or your things like that.  

And so, I, I started doing that at work and I had people at work that were coming up to me to say they noticed a difference. And so much so that on multiple occasions my CEO would message me after something and say how much he had seen my development improving and changing. Still, I don’t know, it was like, it was like a sneak attack, seeing what was happening in the background. I didn’t realize that it was happening, but that, that development is something that I maybe would have not got to naturally. You know, it was like it was expected from the teachers for you to do well in that space. And it was like, you know what they expected on how we turn papers in or turn to turn assignments in. And so that refinement and that’s yeah, it just it, it transferred to my work and it was something that people noticed.  

And so, getting my master’s degree and then some of my other sort of certifications along the way, like I had said earlier, it made me feel relevant and keep my knowledge up. But you know, it really gives me the confidence to ask for what I know I deserve. And, you know, I asked to move across the country and keep my current, you know, stay at my current company. They had never done that type of thing. You know, who would have thought that I could be an engineer and a facility that does installations of equipment and, well, some big companies to do that, I guess. But I never thought, our company didn’t think we could do that right.  

And so, I had to ask to do that, and I felt confident that I am worth it. I’m worth it for them to retain me because I have these skill sets that I’ve been in these programs and, and then after I got my degree and shortly after I actually asked them to create a directory role for me. And they did. And I think that, you know, having the skill set that you get in these programs and continuing your education just really gives you the confidence to say, like, I am worth it and I deserve this. I deserve this promotion. I deserve this new title. I deserve this new wage. I deserve for you to respect me in these meetings where I deserve to be at the table in these meetings, however, it comes up that looks like it, it can come out of doing these programs and that competence, and some people have confidence, but I would say I’m a confident person, but there is like a background comfort that comes that’s not like you can outwardly be confident, like, like a piece inside of that confidence, I felt like came out of doing this program. 

Justin Kyle Bush  40:20  

I feel like the competence and then sometimes always having the knowledge to back it up because you can just be confident and just like, talk about things. But like if you don’t have the knowledge or like, I don’t say smart, but really, I guess I would say knowledge just because like, you can back it up like everything you have your undergrad, you have your masters. All of this. Like you deserve what you deserve, like everyone deserves more. You should be able to come to the table and ask for be sitting at the table. I don’t think sometimes we have enough people at the table that should be at the table with different skill sets, backgrounds, diverse individuals, like that is who should be at the table, not the same people. And it’s interesting for you to say that and then to hear that because it makes me think, like, always asking for more, because I know that some people don’t always ask for more or are afraid to, and for you to have the confidence to ask for more is just, it speaks a lot about you and everything that you learned. And your professional development of what we’re giving our students to, to go out there and not be afraid to ask for what they deserve. 

Theresa Pelkey  41:27  

So absolutely, I couldn’t agree more and know it’s so important for all the voices and diverse perspectives to be out there in their company is making the difference that they need that they can make, and a lot of people are lost in the mix. And so, I think that, I even saw in all of my peers, I saw their confidence come forward in that and that as the semesters went on and I got to see the different things that were happening and different people get different jobs and things like that, I think it definitely came out of them before that, for sure. 

Justin Kyle Bush  42:10  

Well, it was really great to talk to you, and I learned a lot about you that I didn’t already know, and I’m sure all of our guests listening are learning a lot about you. Is there anything else you would like to tell our guests listening and people who possibly can read it? Also, when we put it up for the version, for people that can read it also? 

Theresa Pelkey  42:31  

Yeah, I think I would. I, I would love to just say the little I’m a little bit biased, I guess, because I have my degree in my undergrad at Madison. But you know, there’s something really awesome about degrees from Madison. I am so proud of a degree from Madison because I just feel so prepared. You know, when I went out into as an undergrad, out into the world, the world, when I went out to go where I did, I just, you know, I hit the ground running. You know, I felt so prepared and ready to go. And I had always been confident and saying, look, I got my degree from Madison. And so, when I saw the program come through, as an alumni student, into my email to get a master’s degree at Madison, I, I was like okay sure. It did not disappoint. The same way it was on my program, I so, so I see… I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of the program because again, I just felt like they just do such a great job of making sure that what you’re learning and what you’re doing can actually be taken out into the world. That you are going to be able to be successful, make a difference at your company, and do the things you need to do. Like every class was all about that, you know?  

And so, you know, the and then the caliber of students that are that you’re with is really top notch. I mean, the conversations are, yeah, the people are very smart, you know, in the program.  And they push you and they challenge you and you have debates with your students, your college students, your peers, right, and nobody, and there’s like a collaboration that happened in the program. And, you know, I don’t know, that’s just, it always felt like that as an undergrad and it felt like that again. And I don’t, you know, kudos to the admissions group that’s doing what they do because there is something there to be said about like healthy debate that you get in the program and I think that Madison gives that.  

And so, I was just super happy with my experience as in this program, and I couldn’t recommend it more to anybody that is thinking about doing it. They do such a great job with the platform, the lectures, the, the learning set up, and accessibility and recordings, and just everything that exists inside of the, the online program and the way that it’s designed. I was very impressed with. And I felt like I was doing it. It wasn’t an online program, then I felt like it was just like I was on campus, even though it was all own.  

And so, to be able to get that experience, even though I was in California when I first started or you live in a small town somewhere and you can’t drive to Madison or something like that is super great. And just for anybody that does it, three years goes by really fast. You know, you think like, I don’t think I could do this or I’m working too much or, you know, I don’t have time for this or whatever. You’ll be so happy and proud that you invested and did that for your time, and it goes by very fast and before you know it, you’re done and you have that degree. And then you move on to the next bigger and better things. 

Justin Kyle Bush  46:18 

Yeah. Perfect. Thanks. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. I hope you come back and do another run in the future. 

Theresa Pelkey  46:26 

Thank you so much. And this was it was super fun, and it was great to talk about my experience and thank you for having the opportunity to be a part of this.

Justin Kyle Bush  46:39  

Perfect. Yeah. Thanks. Have a good day. 

Theresa Pelkey  46:43  

You too, thank you!

Justin Kyle Bush  46:45 

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