Women in Engineering: Tristan Donley

Kate Rütschlin

What is your title and what are you responsible for at SIMULIA?

I am one of several SIMULIA Industry Process Consultant Directors, with my focus being in computational fluid dynamics (CFD). In this position, my team and I support North American sales engagements with technical expertise in CFD solutions for all industries, such as transportation, aerospace, high tech, energy, and industrial equipment.

What makes you excited to get up and come to work every day?

The variety of solutions that we can provide keeps my job extremely interesting. Since we cover all industries, this can range from designing the aerodynamics of eVTOL aircraft, to managing the thermal heat of construction equipment, to figuring out how to make the fan in your computer quieter. I also get the opportunity to work with different types of people and I truly enjoy these interactions. Some of them are very technical, such as discussing physics and function, while others are business value conversations. Every day, and frequently every hour of my day, is different.

When did you decide that you wanted to become an engineer and why?

I knew I wanted to be an engineer since I was very young. My parents have technical careers with my mother being a software developer and my father an engineer. When I began taking engineering courses in college and realized how much they challenged me and kept my interest, I knew this is my passion.

What are some of the biggest challenges or successes you have had as an engineer and particularly as a woman in engineering?

I started my professional career working in the US Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. Frequently I would be the only woman in meetings and I was always the only woman in the submarine control room during the initial critical startup of the nuclear reactor. These were amazing experiences but it was my first exposure to the magnitude of gender inequality. I’m proud to say that in 2010 the US Navy lifted the ban on women on submarines.

Currently, I am fortunate to work with many industries and I have noticed different levels of biases. There is still work to do to break down these barriers and change perceptions. Although, I have not let this bias influence the goal of those engagements; they may require an adjustment of strategy.

What drives and inspires you? Maybe you can tell us about your favorite ah-ha moment?

I am creating solutions to problems in my profession, but what really drives me is the path taken to get there. Every decision that one makes, points you in a direction. Sometimes when it doesn’t work out, you have to turn around, but you learn from it. All along the way, you are interacting with new people, understanding different perspectives, and adjusting, to get to the solution. The journey drives me.

If you were not an engineer, what would you be?

I truly love my career and am lucky to have fulfillment and passion in the different areas I work in. If I were to consider something else, I would love to do floral design where I would be able to continue to express my creativity and transform spaces to lift up people’s moods.

What is the most interesting thing about you that is not on your resume?

What often surprises people is that I worked on developing a nuclear reactor for NASA’s Project Prometheus and I was on a competitive skydiving team called Tenacity and have logged about 1,000 skydives. However, for me, the most interesting thing in my life is my three confident, imaginative, and considerate children.  I learn new things from them every single day.

What is your favorite hobby?

I enjoy trying new things, so my hobby list is always growing. Cooking is at the top of the list though. I love researching and trying new cuisines and I have been able to broaden my family’s palates.

How do you spend time outside of work?

I spend a lot of time with my very active family but I also love to exercise and meditate. I find taking this time for myself helps me bring my best self to my children, friends, family, career, and volunteering. I also love to travel and have gone on several amazing trips, like an African photo safari, dog sledding in Alaska, and hiking the Grand Canyon. I’m looking forward to many more adventures.

Please tell us how you feel about the importance of STEM/STEAM education and outreach, especially with young girls.

Every year there are millions of technological advances in our world and when you think about that in context, many jobs that young children will have in adulthood have yet to be invented. Teaching children about technology prepares them for these changes and inspires outside-the-box thinking. Exposure and recruitment of girls into these programs at a young age normalizes women in the field, resulting in less bias and more diverse technological solutions.

What is your favorite quote?

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg