Acoustic Engineer - Melissa

 "It has always been a curiosity of mine to figure out how, and why, things work. I wanted to have the technical background so I could understand what people were talking about. Engineering teaches you how to problem solve and how to fix things."

Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do?

I live in Greenville, SC, and I am an acoustical engineer for BMW. I am originally from Pennsylvania but went to Clemson University and studied Mechanical Engineering for my undergraduate degree. I am currently working on my MBA with Clemson University.


For automotive acoustics, we listen for noises and vibrations that come from the drivetrain of the car, such as the engine, transmission, and components that allow movement of the car. We take measurements and try to find out where the noises are coming from. There are two different types of noises that we investigate: structure-borne noise and airborne noise. We use devices called accelerometers to measure vibrations at a micro-scale. We place the device on an engine with a puddy substance, with wires that run from the device to a laptop. The information we gather is graphed using a software, and we can tell what vibrations are occurring in the engine based on the frequency and amplitude. We can then present these findings to project-side and upper management. To detect airborne noise, we place microphones in the car to detect what the outer ears are hearing inside the cabin. We will measure the frequency and see what a customer would hear.

Acoustics is very ‘engineery’. It can get very technical and, it is taught at a graduate level in school. There is always something to learn, and even after spending a good bit of time in the department, I still don't understand a lot of things. But, that is fine, because we do have customers to think about and most of them do not have a PhD in acoustical engineering. 

What does your typical day look like?

Everyday is different, but I typically get in around 7:30 am. First, I check to see if any cars are waiting for me. My department receives production cars that may have noise issues. These cars come straight off the line and road test employees drive them around. If they hear a noise, they will send it to our area. That is the first priority for me in the morning. If we do in fact have cars waiting for us, then I will test drive them and see if I hear a noise. If I do detect something, I may need to take measurements, switch out cars, or do a further investigation.

If I don’t have production cars to test, I will start working on another side project. This could include working on the cars in the pre-launch phase (before development). In general, I am making sure the acoustics are approved before the production of the car. That requires a lot of testing and driving the cars. In order for us to figure out which part of the car the noise is coming from, we test the car within a soundproof structure. The car is driven in place with a device called a dinometer strapped onto it, and we take measurements.

One unique aspect about my job is that I have German class for an hour and half every Tuesday and Thursday. And, I also get to participate in drive events. We test drive the cars on handling courses or on courses designed for speed tests. Back in July, I went out west and did altitude testing. Because our cars go all over the world, we test them in different environments and conditions. So, there really isn't a 'typical' day, which I love.

Being a part of the acoustics department means that I am rarely at a desk. In fact, my friends and I each have a fitbit and we are in competition with one another to see who walks the most. I will hit 4-5 miles before I leave for the day, and I usually get more steps in on a car analysis day. I normally leave around 4:30 pm - 5:00 pm. Depending on projects and which phase of development for a car the company is in, I may have to work weekends. However, being a part of the acoustics department is nice because there is a better work/life balance than compared to other departments. I can take a lunch break in our cafeteria, and we usually go out to lunch once or twice a week.

How many years of schooling did you have/what program did you attend?

While at Clemson University, I completed a co-op with BMW that consisted of 3 semesters and a 6 month internship in Munich, Germany. All were done within BMW's Acoustics Group.  After my internship, I finished my undergraduate degree, graduated from Clemson, and came back to BMW. I joined the Engineering and Operations Management Development Program. The program consists of three rotations, 8 months each, in different areas. It gave me the opportunity to see the different areas of the plant, get experience in different departments, and learn about the company as a whole, and then finally at the end, we are placed. 

 Melissa working in the Engineering and Operations Management Development Program, photo credit:  BMW Manufacturing CO.

Melissa working in the Engineering and Operations Management Development Program, photo credit: BMW Manufacturing CO.

During my first rotation, I was a line supervisor. I worked on a line assembly for the X3 and X4 models. I supervised 39 associates and 20 stations worth of content. Some stations included glass installation, console installation, and interior trim pieces. The next rotation was a position in the body shop. It is called Quality Management of Parts. I was responsible for all of the European supply parts for all models. I made sure the suppliers were adhering to all of our agreements in terms of quality. For my third rotation, I worked in the finance department. I was a controller for the IT group and was approving any employee spending. I also worked on project that included all indirect costs for the plant. Our goal was to reduce cost that were not directly related to producing the car. I learned how to ask the right questions, and with my current courses for my MBA, I was able to apply it at work. I had an awesome group and they were willing to help even though I had no background in finance. Upon graduating from the program, I returned back to the Acoustics Group.

What aspects of your job do you like/dislike?

It is interesting at this point. I always really loved BMW for the opportunities - going to Germany, being a part of the development program, and gaining experience with finance. However, the more I am diving into my MBA and the business side of things, I see that I may be limited as an engineer. I like the strategy of finance and how a company runs. I went back into acoustics because I wanted to gain the technical skills. I love the development program here at BMW and there is a really young network. I have a ton of friends at work and many days I don’t feel like I am at 'work'. I think that is really cool. I love BMW, and I appreciate the cars and now understand so much more about them. My mind has been opened to other possibilities since starting my MBA at Clemson, and my interest in business is growing.

When did you know this is what you wanted to do?/Why did you want to pursue this career?

Walt Disney Imagineering always sparked that curiosity in me. I was a Disney fan for their new development and innovations. Early on, I was fascinated by the modern marvels of Disney. Then, the more science classes I took, the more I enjoyed them. I have always asked a lot of questions. It has always been a curiosity of mine to figure out how, and why, things work. I honestly don’t think I saw myself doing 'engineering things', but I wanted to have the technical background so I could understand what people were talking about. Engineering teaches you how to problem solve and how to fix things.

How did you get your start with BMW?

One of the reasons why I chose Clemson University was because, not only do they have an awesome career center, but they have a great co-op program for engineers as well. The advantage of engineering is that there are more jobs coming out of school than there are available engineers. However, a co-op or internship is necessary to be competitive for those jobs. Clemson really stressed that necessity, and starting early in college, during freshman year, we would have seminars about different companies. In 2010, I wanted to find an internship on my own despite the economic downturn. I met with a school adviser and we worked on my resume. Clemson has a list of mechanical engineering companies that they bring in for a few days and students sign up for time slots for interviews. I prepped the previous week with my adviser and practiced beforehand. I had 9 interviews in total, and I felt very prepared.

I had always wanted to work with Disney, or a company focused on space and aviation. I was having a hard time and could not nail down an internship. All of my classmates, mostly male, were interviewing for the BMW Co-op. Even though most of my other interviews dealt with companies that were aviation related, I was really competitive with my guy friends. At the time, I had little interest in cars. However, I still did well in the interview and I could see the opportunities that BMW had to offer. I thought it was a great way to launch a co-op, and the idea of test driving cars as an intern was awesome. After two rounds of interviews, and reaching out to other students that currently had co-ops at BMW, I secured a spot for my first co-op.

During my last co-op semester with BMW, I started asking how I could complete an internship at the BMW plant in Munich, Germany. I was one of the first round of interns to do something like that, and it was not a streamlined process. I told my manager that I really wanted to go and I worked on my language skills and other documentation to prepare for it. It was a neat experience, interning with the acoustics group at the German plant, but challenging with all the paperwork and moving internationally.

what are some benefits that you receive at BMW?

Most engineering co-ops pay between $14- $22 an hour. We were technically still in college and being able to make money was fantastic. We were also provided with housing and utilities with BMW. That was a great benefit. I got paid much less during my internship in Germany and had to find my own housing. There wasn’t much support, but again that was in part because I one of the first interns to ever request a position in the program.

After graduating from Clemson, I started in the Engineering and Operations Management Development Program with BMW receiving all full-time employee salary and benefits. We have great health care coverage, a 401k that is matched by the company, a savings plan, and a car. A car is a pretty incredible benefit of the job. 

For the car enthusiasts out there, what BMW models have you had?

When I was hired, my very first car was a 335i Convertible. I then drove a Z4 Convertible and my third car was a 328d Diesel. I drove a few 535i models that had navigation, iDrive, driver assistance, heads-up display, and seat massagers. I have a administrative person who helps me with the vehicles, and around 5,000 miles I call her. It is an amazing perk and I am so grateful. It would be hard to go back now and drive something other than a BMW!

What would you tell someone who wanted to pursue your career?

My first piece of advice is to take advantage of every opportunity you have. You may have to search for opportunities that aren't right in front of you and really pursue them. Many young professionals I know have had incredible Co-ops as undergraduates. With an engineering or business degree, you need an internship or co-op in order to stay competitive. It doesn’t make since not to, even if it's just one summer at a power plant. Many engineering companies such as BMW would not be interested in a candidate with no relative experience coming out of school. Without an idea of what the work is like as engineer, students enter the workforce and find that it's not for them. Having exposure to the nature of work and previous experience is beneficial.

What are your long term goals with your career?

I experienced what it was like to be in a role managing people during my development program. Although it was tough, I thought it was awesome. I have always enjoyed leadership positions and since starting my MBA, I am very interested in project management. I love the idea of making a difference by influencing people in a positive way and being able to improve the work area. I am thankful for all the opportunities BMW has allowed me to take, and I know that I would be well-equipped for other positions because of my experience.