Hello again! Welcome to our first installment of Macademics for the year. If you didn't know, Macademics is a series we started to highlight the different applications of our field. This week I'm interviewing Sydney Kidwell. Sydney is from the the DC-Maryland Virginia and graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in Textile Engineering. Read on to learn more about Sydney and Textile Engineering!
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Sydney Kidwell and I love being an engineer! I grew up in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area eventually made my way to North Carolina State University for college. Without any engineering influences growing up, I’m not sure why engineering stuck out so much for me but in high school I knew that would be my career path. 6 years later, including a gap year, a part time semester, and summer sessions, I graduated with a bachelor’s in textile engineering. Now, I’ve been working as an Applications Engineer for a couple months for a global company responsible for manufacturing polymer reinforced parts used in critical, high risk applications.
What is textile engineering?
Textile engineering (TE) is a field dedicated to developing technical textile products. To most people that sounds like apparel. However, textiles are a lot more involved in our daily lives from carpet and flooring, automotive seats and airbags, ballistics protective gear, geotextiles, healthcare products, and especially plastics. A huge part of textile engineering is the study of polymers. The same polymer used to manufacture plastic bottles is used in your shirts. And very similar polymers are being used more and more in biomedical applications. TE is about taking these simple, but necessary applications and making worthwhile improvements.
Can you provide an example of what a textile engineer does?
Textile engineers have similar roles to other engineering fields, the applications however will be different. Most textile engineers I know have moved into process engineering roles or material development.
In my current position as an Applications Engineer, I interface with customers in a sales role, but I’m also handling projects and I’m on the manufacturing floor daily. I listen to feedback from customers, whether it’s positive or negative, and sometimes that means trying to find a solution to a problem they’re having or trying to implement a new process step to make their product work better for them.
My company produces bearing liners that are largely used in landing gear for airplanes, hence the high risk application, but also automotive, helicopters, and infrastructure. Since our applications are so varied, my primary task at the moment is developing a liner and instructions for processing that are essentially “idiot proof”. We want to sell a bearing liner to anyone in any field and confidently predict its lifetime and performance.
Did you always want to study textile engineering? What made you decide to study it?
Going into NC State, I picked biomedical engineering and I had never heard of TE. With a passion for sports growing up, I wanted a field that would keep me connected to that. The thought of working on artificial limbs or prosthetics was fascinating. But once in college I discovered textiles and I realized how endless the possibilities in terms of applications would be. I figured I’d end up working for Nike and I’d still have my connection to sports then eventually I’d find a way to work in the NFL. Not only were my studies interesting, but the professors were amazing. They are some of the smartest people I’ve ever make and have global connections because NC State has one of the world’s top TE programs.
What have been some of your favorite moments in your career?
In 2014, I was hired for a 6 month internship as a material developer at adidas at their headquarters in Germany. I had just completed my sophomore year and I was on Cloud 9. The whole experience was great; living in Germany, meeting people from all over the globe, and working for a global brand. Towards the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to select some pieces that eventually ended up in Kanye’s clothing line. He had just signed to adidas at the time and was setting up for his first season. A lot of the stuff I worked on ended up on the Spring 2014 line.
With some very, very, VERY lucky networking I ended up in Thailand for 5 months working in a manufacturing plant that used waterless dyeing techniques. These 2 experiences were great because I was being paid for essentially a vacation. Yes, I was working and gaining amazing knowledge, but I also got to travel extensively and my eyes were open to totally new experiences. This gap year was definitely a highlight, but I hope to top it soon.
Did you face any obstacles or setbacks in your journey? If so, how did you overcome that?
Going into NC State I struggled on entrance exams, specifically math, and had to take pre-calc while most engineer were already in calc 1. This was especially humbling since I took AP Calc in high school. I failed physics 1 and 2 the first time I took them. I couldn’t tell you how many times I looked at a poor grade and wanted to fight. Being an out of state student, money was an issue. With all these setbacks I had to take a minute and remember why I was doing what I was doing. I had to remember the end goal. I wanted my career more than I wanted to sit down, defeated, and crying then trying to switch my major.
What has been some of the best advice that you received?
The best advice I have received applied to school but also my personal life. I was sharing with an older engineer, that I had failed physics and his response was “What are you going to do differently?”. That thought had never crossed my mind. I figured maybe I would just study a little harder and pass, but that wasn’t good enough. I needed a more drastic change. I needed a new way to take notes. I needed to gain the confidence to ask question and seek knowledge. Too often we become stuck in the norm, but when something isn’t working it’s important to ask, “What are you going to do differently? AND is that enough?”.
What do you want to do next?
I would LOVE to work in another country again. Ideally, I’d be in Europe but I wouldn’t mind hopping to the other side of the world again. While I do still have my passion for sports, I want to work in automotive. There are so many textile applications there from the interior of the car to paint and even the framing. My last internship was as a process engineer for airbags and that’s something I thoroughly enjoyed. If this was a perfect world, I would be a material developer or process engineer for Ferrari in Italy.
Do you have any advice for someone pursuing engineering or STEM in general?
Network. The saying goes “It’s not the grades you make, but the hands you shake”. Yes this is important, but I got into adidas without a single connection. Personally, I think networking includes being able to present yourself well and sell yourself. Outside of your mama, no one is going to sell you, like you. Do it well.
It will be hard and challenging and frustrating, but remember your end goal. Find your motivation early and let it change if need be.
Balance. Your classes will be important but they don’t define you. When you feel defeated, take a break, but be sure to bounce back.
Thank you Sydney, for sharing your story! Hope you all enjoyed and learned a lot about Textile Engineering! See you next month!