Jody Hall with the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee, a newer version of her own car, which is a great example of how steel is used innovatively to keep passengers safe. Photo: Scotty Reiss
Knowing what you want is only half the battle.
When Jody Hall graduated high school, she had a decision to make. Should she pursue her love of music? Or follow her passions into math, science, and chemistry?
She decided to forego the lure of rock ‘n’ roll (and the likelihood that it would lead to a career as a music teacher) and headed to the University of Michigan for a STEM education– and a road that eventually led her to become the first woman to head the Steel Market Development Institute.
Ironically, a STEM education was exactly what her dad, an engineer at Ford Motor Co., did NOT want her to do–although he never really did tell her why.
Her parents were divorced and Jody’s mom urged her to get a degree that would ensure she would never have to rely on someone else. “You have an opportunity to go to school and get a degree, make sure you make it count,” Jody remembers her mom saying. “No matter what happens, you need to be able to take care of yourself.”
It was a message that made sense to Jody. Growing up in a home with two brothers and a single mom, Jody understood the importance of being able to stand on her own. When she entered the engineering program at the University of Michigan, she took it as a serious opportunity to learn, not only about science, but about herself.
“I was starting to discover that I was an extrovert. I didn’t know that,” Jody laughed.
You’ve Got to Form a Good System of Support
Jody, like many of us, has faced times when she felt lost. She admits that there were times during her first years of study when she wasn’t sure she’d make it. Then she learned the importance of creating a good support system.
“Through the support system that I developed at the university, I was able to get a lot of help with my studies and I was able to learn better study habits.”
It was also through this support system that Jody got involved with a university-sponsored engineering council. As in often the case for women, her first role there was as secretary. But she didn’t stop there–she worked her way up to president.
Her high profile role at the engineering council gave her the chance to meet many influential people in the engineering profession. One such person was a vice president at GM. He recognized Jody’s potential and helped Jody land her first job in the auto industry, though, ironically, it wasn’t until a few years later she learned that he’d helped her to land the job.
The importance of a good support system is something that has growing importance to Jody. Today, that translates into her work with SMDI, where her job is to help develop stronger, lighter grades of steel that serve as the support for the cars and trucks we drive.
What does SMDI do? Make cars safer, for one
SMDI is a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute that works to promote the use of steel in the automotive industry based on its environmental performance and value as an automotive material. Because materials matter when building a vehicle, SMDI leads the way in research and development to help automakers pair the best choice of material with the job that needs to be done.
Choosing a vehicle made with steel can benefit buyers because of its superior strength, durability, and ease of repair. Plus, steel has the lowest production phase greenhouse gas when compared to alternative materials sometimes used in vehicle production.
After spending 30 years working in the automotive engineering industry with GM, Jody understands the importance of choosing the right materials for the job.
“During my time at GM, I started appreciating more of what the steel industry was doing, ”she says. “The steel industry was working with the automotive industry to deliver vehicles with a 5-star safety rating.”
Jody gets a big grin on her face when she says, “We did that.”
Life as an auto engineer: paving the way for others
Jody began her career at GM’s technical center doing advanced technology and manufacturing engineering.
“I learned that because I like to make things and I always liked to work with my hands, manufacturing engineering was really a natural thing for me to do.”
She also realized that she still needed to know more; she continued her education while working at GM. After four years of night school while working full time, Jody had earned her Master’s degree in engineering.
She then learned about a fellowship program through GM that allowed her to earn her Ph.D. in metallurgy. She graduated as the sixth woman to ever receive a doctorate in metallurgy from the University of Michigan.
Supporting others through mentoring
After forging her own path through a field that once had few women mentors, Jody places importance on sharing her experiences with the younger engineers entering the field today.
“I feel like now I have the responsibility to share my experiences; to make sure the younger generation is well equipped to walk in this career.”
While she has always made it a point to mentor both male and female engineers, she now looks to that part of her career with greater responsibility.
It’s all the support–whether it’s the steel foundation of a vehicle or the support of a woman pioneer for those following in her wake.