Mechanical Engineering Alumna Elevates with ThyssenKrupp

Mary-Sada Foster furthers education, advances career

Mary-Sada Foster

After Mary-Sada Scott Foster (BSME 07) switched her major from math education to mechanical engineering, the University of Mississippi alumna stacked up achievements that continue today.

The Southaven native became vice president of the Engineering Student Body, developed a tutoring program for underclassmen in calculus and physics, and served on the student committees of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Society of Women Engineers. She also graduated cum laude.

“It is gratifying to set goals, work hard and achieve them,” said Foster, director of the project management office of ThyssenKrupp Elevator Co. in Memphis, where she manages a team of project managers and a change manager in North America.

“I graduated with more than an engineering degree,” she said. “I learned about leadership, team building and business/organizations. All of this, combined with my drive to always learn more, work together and drive results, has benefited my career path.”

Foster remembers Tyrus McCarty and Ellen Lackey as being her favorite mechanical engineering professors.

“Dr. McCarty was always entertaining and made learning fun. He has a sense or humor,” she said. “I enjoyed Dr. Lackey’s passion for engineering. The Rube Goldberg project was a lot of fun.”

Following graduation, Foster went to work for ExxonMobil in Brandon as an industrial lubrication sales engineer. The position required that she rapidly learn a lot about several industries, such as power plants, paper mills, injection molding, natural gas compressor stations, off-highway machinery and general manufacturing.

“My engineering degree equipped me for such a role,” said Foster, who earned her MBA degree from Belhaven University in 2012 while within the company. “I was trained on sales, negotiation, communications, safety, among other skill sets required. Technical writing is another asset of engineering school that I was able to use in this role.”

While working with ExxonMobil, she had learned about gears, bearings, couplings, hydraulics and cylinders in relation to lubrication. She went to work at ThyssenKrupp as an engineering project manager.

While working in product development, she took a request from concept to design, testing, industrialization, piloting and sales release. She also acquired her Project Management Professional certification during this time.

“Once again, my engineering degree was very helpful as I learned about elevators and managed large projects,” she said. “I moved from the project management department to the test and qualification department as a mechanical test engineer. This was a fun job where my job was to ‘break’ elevator parts.”

Foster developed criteria, setups and executed tests from which she afterwards wrote reports, specifications and created other standard operating procedures for different parts of the job. In 2016, she also acquired her Six Sigma Black Belt certification, which is an improvement methodology that uses these phases to make changes to any process: defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling. While in this role, Foster worked on several Six Sigma projects.

She then left the engineering department and went to the manufacturing department to become a program manager for a manufacturing transformation program where she had 20 projects focusing on safety, quality, delivery and cost.

“We have built the first project management office in our manufacturing organization where I am now the director,” Foster said. “My engineering degree has helped me transition into this role where my problem-solving capabilities and leadership skills are very helpful.”

Foster and her husband, Mark Foster, have three children: Ella, Ruthie and Scott. The family resides in Hernando, where they enjoy playing tennis, running and boating, and serve in a local church.

Marni Kendricks, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs and assistant dean for undergraduate academics, said she met Foster when she went to work for the School of Engineering in fall 2004 and Foster simultaneously changed her major to mechanical engineering.

“There were very few women in the BSME program at the time, so her ambitious nature, bright mind, friendly personality and focus on engineering excellence was even more obvious,” Kendricks said. “She’s basically the model of mechanical engineering manufacturing excellence by her own right. I knew she would be.”

Foster said her Ole Miss Engineering education has been key to her ongoing career success.

“Engineering is such a great undergraduate degree,” she said. “It opens so many doors for starting a career path.”