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Engineers in the Wild – Mel Roberts of Chrysler, FCA

How do new cars get designed? And how makes sure they’re good enough to hit the road? That would be Mel Roberts, Engineer Program Manager at Chrysler, FCA! Here’s how she went from building blocks to designing dashboards!

What’s your title?
Engineering Program Manager

Which team do you work on?
Chrysler Pacifica Minivan Platform Team at FCA US

In your own words, what do you do?
There are two major aspects of my job, first I help to coordinate pilot vehicle builds and testing prior to production. Once a vehicle is in production then I coordinate implementing engineering changes into current production vehicles. For example, I help launch new features like the Hands Free Sliding Door and Liftgate.

Why do you love working at FCA US (formerly Chrysler Group)?
I like getting to participate in the lifecycle of the vehicle. I get to see the vehicle evolve from a sketch, transform into 3D models, be assembled at the plant, and be tested in the field. Spending time in the field, driving cars and playing with features is the best part though.

What toys did you like most as a child?
Blocks and video games!

What did you want to be when you were little?
My mom will tell you that I wanted to be either a genetic engineer or a biomedical engineer ever since elementary school. The first part of my career I spent working in a hospital and in a laboratory as a biomedical engineer. About 5 years ago I joined the automotive industry and was surprised how much I love it!

If you were telling a classroom of elementary school students about a really creative and challenging project that you did, what would you say?
When I first started at FCA US, I was a design and release engineer for the Chrysler 200 floor console. We were challenged to make a sliding cup holder fit in a small space and still operate as nicely as a drawer in your kitchen. Some of the objectives were: to be narrow enough to fit between the seats, to slide smoothly and not buzz or squeak on bumpy roads, and to charge a phone in the “secret” compartment underneath the cup holder. We had a team of designers and engineers working on how to make it functional and beautiful and the final product received very positive reviews:

“Not an inch of the 200’s console is wasted. Queen Elizabeth’s interior designers aren’t this fussy about detail. The dash is elegant. The screen is as intuitive as your smart phone. And the shift knob is reduced to a dial, turning the center console in to a piece of furniture full of drawers, cupholders, sliding doors, and a sub-zero refrigerator (just kidding about that last one).”

How did you discover engineering?
I always knew I wanted to be an engineer but I don’t think I knew what an engineer did until I went to Summer Youth Programs at Michigan Tech when I was 15. I learned how to use 3D modeling to design prosthetics and to create and test materials to absorb impact (like in baseball helmets to reduce injury). Problem solving is the best part, it doesn’t matter to me if the problem is medical, mechanical, or electrical in nature… you can apply the same problem solving skills to find creative solutions.

What’s the most fun thing about your job that you didn’t expect when you chose this career?
In this job I have learned to expect the unexpected. During last year’s Detroit auto show I volunteered at the Chrysler Pacifica minivan exhibit and was shocked to learn I would be helping on a gameshow with Nick Cannon! I also didn’t think I would like the assembly plant as much as I do. It is a fast paced environment and you learn something new every day.

Engineers in the Wild is a series of interviews with real-life engineers. Click here to read more!