Kristina Valko, Applications Engineer, PennEngineering, Danboro, PA – USA
Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Integrated Design
University of Delaware (Newark, DE)
From a young age, Kristina Valko had an engineering mindset. It was no surprise that she embraced art and STEM classes throughout her early school days and graduated from college with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Today, she’s part of the applications engineering team at PennEngineering – a global leader in the fastening industry since 1942.
Kristina began her career at PennEngineering as a New Product Development Engineer, where she carried out all the design and development tasks needed to bring new ideas to life. She gained exposure to a number of diverse markets – from automotive electronics to industrial/commercial products. While Kristina enjoyed the hands-on work of prototyping and testing, she also enjoyed engaging directly with customers, which led to her current position as Applications Engineer.
Today, Kristina develops fastening products for potential customers who are looking for new and innovative solutions to application-specific challenges. She plays a pivotal role in carefully coordinating the many tasks needed to bring a project to completion – from testing and manufacturing to customer approvals to finance and sales/marketing.
Kristina is a graduate of the University of Delaware and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering. During her time at U of D she completed various engineering internships and also served as a Student Athlete Tutor, Teaching Assistant, and Undergraduate Researcher.
Talk about the culture of your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
I’m really proud to work for an organization that embraces a culture of diversity and has made strides in recent years to recruit more female representation across the company, including into our engineering teams. When I was hired in 2018, I was one of only two female engineers in my department. Today, we have four women engineers and more diversity in job applicants than ever before.
Regardless of gender, everyone I work with is very inclusive and values my opinion. They support me and embrace my creativity while also being very open to sharing their industry knowledge and letting me learn from them. I always feel included and know I’m not stuck in a box here – there are opportunities for growth and that’s exciting to me.
Describe a recent company project in which you were involved that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
I’m fortunate to have worked on many great company projects, but there was one that took place during the recent quarantine that was particularly successful. A customer was looking for a new fastener solution that required several rounds of sample design and development from our engineering team until we produced a part that met all the project specifications. I managed all testing and reporting for the project, which resulted in multiple part orders for over one million parts. Close collaboration between our engineering team and our customers made it possible.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
I grew up as a creative person and my interest in engineering started at a young age. I’d play with Barbie dolls along with my two sisters but would always ask my parents for building blocks and LEGO sets. I enjoyed art and tech classes at school and was fortunate to have exposure to STEM classes like woodworking, engineering, and architecture. I was always one of the few females in my classes, even in college. But to me, that was a good thing. It lit a competitive spark that drove me to take on any challenge and overcome it with confidence.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it – or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
It’s only been a few years since I ventured from college into the professional world. To date, my biggest challenge happened while completing an internship for a large company. Only two of the ten engineering interns were women, and it was an uphill battle at times to get the attention of my colleagues and to be taken seriously. The company culture was not inclusive, and I passed on an employment opportunity with the company. I grew from that experience and learned from that point on that I would only work for an organization that appreciated the opinions and insights of everyone, equally.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
My career advice would be that regardless of age or gender, your opinion matters. Don’t be afraid to speak up and use your voice – and don’t worry about what other people are thinking. Find a supportive and inclusive work culture that embraces and cares about everyone…and values what you have to say.