Val’s global engineering story started in 2014 with Virginia Tech's Rising Sophomore Abroad Program (RSAP) in Europe. The following fall, she approached Michelin at the Engineering Expo about an internship in France with them. The next year she completed two rotations of a co-op with Michelin in the United States and spent the summer in Ghana with Saha Global: “We were in Tamale in northern Ghana, working on a project that empowers women there to run their own businesses in solar electricity generation. We bought the supplies to build a solar hut and worked with a translator to work with the women in remote villages about 45 minutes outside of Tamale to understand the basics of electricity and train them to run the business.”

Fast forward to Spring 2016: Val was back in Blacksburg. While on her co-op, she had been earning money while trying out different directions and finding her career path in engineering. Did she want to do service work in Africa? Did she want to work for industry? Could she combine service, research, and international work? The first co-op rotation helped her to figure out that she wanted to go more into Research & Development. With each rotation, she continued to ask about working for Michelin in France.

“I had taken French since high school. That was my dream—to somehow combine my love of French language and culture with my love of engineering. French engineering tends to be slightly more theoretical. So my background in ESM was an asset—my stronger math skills were a better match for what they would typically study in school.” At the end of her third co-op rotation with Michelin-U.S. in Summer 2016, the internship coordinator called to ask if she was still interested in going to France. “That was a really tough decision. I had already taken a year to co-op. This would mean taking six years total to finish.”

Val took a risk and accepted the opportunity to work on an open-ended design problem at the company’s headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand. 

View of Usine Michelin in Clermont -Ferrand France
View of the Michelin offices in Clermont-Ferrand, France in 2017.

Her project looked at optimizing tire tread design and materials for wet braking using finite element analysis. With her mentor and his team, Val prepared data plots of tire cross-sections for analysis. She described the iterative process: “We took a step back to understand the physics of wet braking traction—running simulations on multiple parameters. We might do 20 plots, have a meeting, and then my mentor would say, ‘maybe we should look at this?’ And it would be another set of 20 more data plots.” Her internship in France came with challenging project tasks and refreshing cultural differences. Highlights included being driven on the wet test track by a professional driver and Friday morning team breakfasts, when a team member would always bring croissants and the whole group would unwind.

Would she want to go back? “It would need to be longer. The international move took longer to adapt—after 3 months, I felt I had really settled in and then I only had a few weeks left.” The process of adapting to an independent life living alone in a major French industrial city and working full-time was not always easy. Val learned things from her international internship that maybe she wouldn’t have learned otherwise--about intercultural differences in industrial research and her own career goals: “It’s one of the reasons I want to go to grad school now—to pursue grad school in aerospace engineering to address open-ended problems.”

View of Clermont-Ferrand city skyline in France
View of the city skyline and iconic cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand, France from the Parc Montjuzet looking southeast. 2017.