Wanda Knowles has been breaking the mold from the word go: she was the first female engineer at the first three companies that employed her — Torrington Co. Special Products, AW Chesterton Co. and Simplex Time Recorder Co.
But becoming an engineer was more of a vocation than a choice. Knowles is one of five generations of engineers in her family, a legacy that includes her father. She clearly remembers as a child at the tender age of five or six correcting her father as he fixed a carburetor. Always interested in how things went together, Knowles knew she wanted to be an engineer since she was little — not unlike Peggy Seeger's “I'm Gonna Be an Engineer” — and the plastics industry served as her pathway, first getting to know plastics as a supplier engineer with Simplex and Bose Corp. and eventually becoming the quality and IT director for Mack Molding Inc.
Knowles holds an associate's degree in mechanical engineering from Waterbury State Technical College, a bachelor's in quality management from University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a master's in program management, with a focus on new product development, from Tufts in Medford, Mass.
She was first exposed to Mack when the Arlington, Vt.-based contract manufacturer served as a supplier to Simplex and Bose. Moved by the cohesiveness of the Mack team, she developed an admiration for the family-owned business that she says treats employees like family. When the right opportunity presented itself, she joined Mack as director of information technology in 2000 and has since added the responsibility of the company's quality organization to her portfolio.
One of the best parts of working in plastics is the “unparalleled flexibility” it offers engineers and designers, she says, making diverse project possible, particularly with the growing trend of converting metal to plastics and consolidating parts.
Knowles says it's crucial that anyone — male or female — considering a career in the plastics industry find an organization like Mack that has a meaningful internship program.
“You don't know what you don't know,” she said, “so you need to learn what you like and don't like, you need time to see where you're best fitted and what you love.”
While spending time riding her motorcycle, playing golf, woodworking and spending time with family — including her two dogs, Bear and Delilah — it's the “family business” of engineering that continues to be her true passion, citing her father as her greatest mentor and continued inspiration, though he passed away two years ago. From the pictures on her desk to her cherished childhood memories, Knowles says he is the engineering manager/chief design engineer who inspired her both as a child and an adult. It was her father from whom she sought advice on engineering challenges and she continues to think of him when problem solving today, she says.