Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors Inc. Membership and Analytics Manager Ashley Turrell Burleson attended her first NPE in May and had an "absolutely great time." But she underestimated the magnitude and scope of the plastics industry event.
"People in my office know me very well and know that I love to be able to plan and understand exactly what's going to happen to the best of my ability ahead of time. I've been to several other trade shows," she said. "They kept telling me, 'Ashley, whatever you're imagining in your mind, I need you to multiply that because that's what is going to be out there.' And that is really what it was.
"For me, events like that are very, very exciting, not only because I get to meet some of the people I only get some of people I only get to email … but then also it's exciting because I get to look around and see some of the new technology and some of the new equipment that's out there."
Burleson, 28, is a first-generation college graduate, an accomplishment she calls her greatest achievement. Her college journey began at Tulane University in New Orleans — her family had a huge celebration when she received her college acceptance email — but she transferred and graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with a bachelor's degree in English.
Past jobs have included system redesign data analyst at The Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, technology director of the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence CFA and program director of Brain Balance Achievement.
Burleson has no background in manufacturing or plastics, but now at Indianapolis, Ind.-based MAPP, she does everything from member recruitment and engagement outreach to data analytics and benchmarking reports. She was part of the team that pushed MAPP to reach more than 400 members. She also helped establish MAPP's Young Professionals Network, which connects and brings together the innovative up-and-coming leaders from across the industry.
"I walked into the plastics industry just under three years ago with absolutely no knowledge of the industry at all," she said. "On top of that, I was charged with creating benchmarking publications … and then presenting the information to senior executives in the industry. While I was doing this, I had a heightened awareness of ... being a woman in a male-dominated industry and being a young person as well. I remember one of my thoughts being, 'What in the world am I going to write about or tell these senior leaders, who have been in the industry for 20-plus years, that they don't already know?'
"After the first several reports were published and I started getting positive feedback from the industry in regards to what I was able to provide, it became clear to me that I was able to add value in an area where I previously didn't think possible. Being able to give insight and information to industry experts that are then able to use that information to impact their business decisions is a huge success to me," she added.
Burleson said she is an "avid reader" who has books for both personal leisure and professional/personal development.
"[A] lot of my reading recently has been on how to overcome some of the barriers women face within the workplace, their careers and everyday life," she said. "This has helped me to get a better grasp on what I can do each day to break down any barriers, both internally and externally. In all reality, for me, it has been about being able to be aware of what those stereotypes [of being a woman and a millennial] are and work to not play into any of those roles, but also just continuing to work to present an authentic version of myself every day to all the industry professionals that I come into contact with."