Rachel Hawn 2016 and 2017 says she admittedly has somewhat of a “geeky” passion for manufacturing and her former coworkers would regularly remind her that she had over-the-top enthusiasm for the industry. Now, she’s taking that passion and turning it into education for her students, as this fall she started as the program director and lecturer for the manufacturing management and quality management programs at the University of Minnesota Crookston.
Hawn grew up in southwest Minnesota in Jackson, and had an original plan to follow in her mother’s footsteps and go into nursing. During her senior year in high school, she enrolled and took post-secondary education option (PSEO) classes at Minnesota West Community and Technical College while working full-time as an assistant manager at a local Burger King 45 hours a week. Hawn’s first official freshman semester, she was still thinking about nursing but changed her path to law enforcement, where she graduated with an applied science degree in 2007. She was licensed as a police officer in Minnesota, but never worked in that role.
After graduation, still trying to figure out where and what exactly she wanted to do, she went back to her roots and continued to work as a nurses aide at the nursing home she had worked at through college, and later transitioned to a role as activities director at a local assisted living facility. About six months after she graduated, Hawn found herself moving to a job in manufacturing working with medical cables where, within a year, she learned how to do every aspect of the job outside of molding.
“The first manufacturer that I worked with was small and had a good variety of tasks, but I needed more of a challenge,” said Hawn.
Hawn later transitioned to AGCO Corporation and began working as a material handler for the lean engineering department. After a year she was promoted to an engineering technician, then senior technician, and then as a supply chain analyst. Her last few years at AGCO were spent working on a highly cross-functional global ERP implementation team, where she learned to navigate the pandemic via Zoom calls with her coworkers around the world.
“We were a very culturally diverse team,” Hawn explained. “I had coworkers in France, Finland, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland - and we all became very close, even through the pandemic. Getting to see them again afterwards was like this amazing reunion.”
In February 2022, Hawn transitioned to a role on the Global IT team, working with the Enterprise Application Services (EAS) team as an IT SAP business analyst for Materials & Logistics.
Hawn was recognized in 2018 with a “STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Production) Ahead” Emerging Leader award from The Manufacturing Institute. Annually there are just 30 women nationally that are honored as emerging leaders. The STEP Ahead initiative launched in 2012 to bolster manufacturing’s attractiveness to women and to help improve the perception of careers in the industry, plus empower women leaders.
“I enjoy advocating for manufacturing careers because, personally, when I told my mother I was going to work in manufacturing, I received a lengthy lecture about how this was the worst decision ever, and that it wasn't safe, it was dirty work; it was where people went to do horrible monotonous work and not use their brains,” Hawn shared. “Manufacturing today is really anything but that! If you’re willing to learn, manufacturers are willing to train and the opportunities that these employers offer are really endless, all the way from the shop floor to the c suite, the sky is the limit, and the only real limit is your aptitude for dreaming. Manufacturers offer stable work, good benefits, and a safe working environment. Advances in technology are coming in leaps and bounds and it’s amazing to see the manufacturing industry transform before my eyes. Most employers offer tuition reimbursement, which then allows those currently working in the industry to continue their education and to up-skill, this is really a win-win for both the employer and the employee, as the employer is investing in an employee who will bring critical skills back to their workplace, and the employee is then able to advance their education and position themselves strategically for advancement with their employer.”
“We’re working to change perceptions or stigmas people may have about manufacturing because this isn’t the manufacturing that our parents and grandparents worked in,” she added. “A few years back, I had the honor of giving my mother a tour through the AGCO facility in Jackson and I think she was truly amazed at the opportunities that I’ve been given and the work that I had done over the years there. I remember her saying that it seemed like there wasn’t an area of the plant that I hadn’t had some part in developing.”
Hawn mentioned all the literature there is on the underrepresentation of women in the manufacturing sector, including articles within The Manufacturing Institute, which is said to “inspire the next generation of female industry leadership” and “empower women through recognition, research, and leadership, encouraging them to engage their skills in modern manufacturing.”
“Manufacturing has always been a male dominated industry, and sadly women are still underrepresented today,” Hawn continued. “Changing this involves educating, advocating and raising awareness about these disparities. I want to be an example for women everywhere, to show them that they can start at the bottom and work their way to the top, they can do it while they’re raising babies and working towards furthering their education and careers.”
“I started my undergrad at UMC in 2011 and worked gradually towards my manufacturing management and quality management degrees,” she went on. “My last semester at UMC for my manufacturing management degree was with a full credit load, a full-time job, a husband who worked opposite shifts, a one and three year old at home, and a broken leg while I was pregnant with our third son. That semester was one of the most trying times of my life, but I stayed focused and came out on top. I want people to see that if a real person, a mom, a woman, a wife, can make this happen, then they can too.”
Before starting with UMN Crookston, other notable items from Hawn’s past include serving on the Superior City Council in Iowa, writing grants for Superior’s parks committee and fire agency which helped secure new playground equipment and wildland firefighter gear, and, oh yeah, raising seven kids including five of her own, a stepson, and a foreign exchange student. Her husband was formerly the mayor of the small town they lived in and a volunteer firefighter for 20 years before they relocated to Minnesota in 2017 where he now works as an ag service supervisor for Ziegler CAT.
In her “spare” time, Hawn likes “reading” (audible), camping, gardening, kayaking, photography, and fishing with her sons. She also teaches a small group at her local church for Wednesday night AWANA and they’ve spent the last five years remodeling their house, which they turned from a three bedroom to a six bedroom. Plus, she’s the local international exchange coordinator for EF High School Exchange Year, which helps find host families for international high school students. Hawn does home visits for the program, works with the schools that the students will attend, and oversees the students while they’re in the states for the year.
“I think the opportunities for both the exchange students and their host communities is monumental,” said Hawn. “We have a real opportunity to bring the world to our communities, to develop these relationships, and to understand things from a different perspective. I know that the students that we’ve hosted personally, as well as the students I’ve gotten to meet over the years, have truly changed my life for the better. I now have a global family and a part of my heart belongs in Denmark, Italy and France now too.”
Written for the Fall 2022 Torchlight e-Newsletter.