Engineering Alumni Spotlight: Maryssa Weir
To ensure that students benefit from a vibrant culture of learning and gain the skills needed to embark on a successful career, the College of Engineering maintains five High-Impact Practices of Student Success — hands-on experience, global perspective, undergraduate research, co-ops and internships, and community engagement. Maryssa Weir (née Mercer) checked every box in her time at Wayne State and is an emerging leader in her profession.
Weir earned two degrees from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and is now a front occupant safety performance integration engineer with General Motors. She continues to give back to her alma mater as an industry mentor, an advocate for women in her profession, an ally to her community and an ambassador for Wayne State and the city of Detroit.
Can you please describe your career path?
I launched my career at General Motors in 2016 in the TRACK (Technical Rotation and Career Knowledge) two-year rotational development program for entry-level employees. During the program, I enjoyed rotations as a safety CAE integration engineer in the Advanced Vehicle Development and Virtual Design, Development and Validation organizations, where I developed virtual crashworthiness methods and supported analytical restraint system safety performance optimization for rear occupants in our full-size trucks and SUVs. As a result of these efforts, I earned my DFSS Black Belt and was awarded a defensive publication.
I completed my M.S. at Wayne State University (with a jump-start from AGRADE) during this rotational program by taking evening classes on campus in Detroit. Two years ago, I transitioned to my current role as a front occupant safety performance engineer, leading driver and passenger restraint system optimization and frontal crashworthiness performance validation for future electric vehicle programs and the global mid-size truck team. In my current role, I am also leading a senior leadership-sponsored design thinking project to reimagine the way our safety organization collaborates cross-functionally at GM as we look ahead to the future.
I am also a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) through Safe Kids Worldwide, and I enjoy volunteering my time to teach caregivers how to properly install child restraints in their vehicles during community Car Seat Check events.
Describe the ways you’ve stayed connected to Wayne State since graduation.
Does marrying my College of Engineering sweetheart after we both graduated with our M.S. degrees count? (haha). My husband, Colin (MSME - Controls ‘17, BSME ’15), and I met in September 2012 at Wayne State and have been inseparable ever since.
Immediately after undergrad, I served as a chapter advisor to Tau Beta Pi MI-E for two years and continue to return as a mentor for the WSU Society of Women Engineers (SWE) annual speed mentoring event (that I formerly chaired during my undergrad). I also joined the Recent Alumni Council, representing new engineering alumni at the Hall of Fame awards dinner, National Engineers Week activities and annual giving campaigns. I have also been an ambassador for the College of Engineering’s study abroad programs at the Commission on the Status of Women of Distinction Awards Reception.
More recently, I joined the Engineering Alumni Council, leading the Messaging and Visibility Taskforce, and have continued to serve as an industry mentor to several engineering students over the last few years through the Industry Mentor Program.
With what other organizations do you volunteer, and what are your hobbies and interests?
I have been heavily involved with SWE since my undergrad at WSU, and just recently completed my term as president of the SWE-Detroit Professional Section. Prior to that, I served as vice president of professional development, special events chair and GM host lead for the 2018 Coalition of Minority Professional Engineering Societies (COMPES) Professional Development Conference, a full-day program co-hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
I am now serving at the society level as a leadership coach on the Leadership Coaching Committee, where I provide consulting services and training to collegiate and professional SWE section leaders nationwide.
In addition to my involvement with SWE, I am a certified group fitness instructor teaching weekly barre/Pilates and musically-driven strength/cardio classes at a local boutique studio, and am completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training (RYT 200 certification) this summer.
My husband and I are certified wish granters through Make-a-Wish Michigan and have been involved with the organization together since 2013. We enjoy hosting dinner parties and monthly board game nights, adventuring with our Australian Shepherd puppy, Aspen, traveling anywhere with delicious food, hiking in national parks and spending time in northern Michigan.
Why did you choose to attend Wayne State?
I was born and raised in the metro Detroit area, and the city of Detroit has always been very near and dear to my heart. When it came time to start looking at colleges, I was surprised to realize that Wayne State was not even on the radar for most of my high school friends, yet it was the very first university I applied to. I still remember my first campus visit when I was captivated by the small class sizes and team-based learning environment that the College of Engineering offered. With the close ties to world-class medical institutions and global industry partners, plus the unique cohort structure and design-based curriculum, the BME program was unlike anything else in the country. Yet for me, the most significant factor that weighed into my decision to attend WSU was affordability and access to support.
Tuition is a significant investment, and my parents made it clear that they could not afford to send my two sisters and me to a four-year university right away. They had budgeted for each of us to start out at a community college and transfer to a university after two years. The real turning point for me was in November 2011 when I received a letter from Wayne State notifying me that I had been awarded a Presidential Scholarship from the Honors College. I still remember crying together with my parents at our kitchen table over this incredible blessing that meant I would be able to attend my dream university to become the first person in my family to earn my bachelor’s degree and become an engineer.
List any student organizations or teams you were part of at Wayne State.
- Tau Beta Pi, The Engineering Honor Society
- Society of Women Engineers
- Biomedical Engineering Society
- Engineering Student Faculty Board
- Engineering Student Ambassadors
- Christians on Campus Club
- Detroit Style Ballroom Dancing Club
- Detroit Quidditch Team
Financial support from scholarships enabled me to live on campus every year and pursue numerous opportunities for learning and growth. The proximity and immersion in the Midtown community inspired me to take on 12 leadership roles in student organizations throughout my undergraduate program. Through each organization, I made it a priority to stay engaged in serving the local community and became an action catalyst on campus for events such as Michigan organ donor registration through the Gift of Life Campus Challenge and blood drives with the Red Cross, as well as connecting engineering students with volunteer opportunities with Detroit soup kitchens, urban gardens and community revitalization projects. I rallied my classmates to influence numerous K-12 students to pursue STEM fields through leading hands-on engineering outreach programs such as Tau Beta Pi’s MindSET in elementary schools, serving as counselors for pre-college engineering camps with DAPCEP for middle school and high school students, and FutureSWE to empower metro Detroit high school girls.
How did your education at Wayne State prepare you for what you are doing today?
At WSU, I was exposed to many different aspects and interdisciplinary applications of biomedical engineering, which provided me with a deeper understanding of the field through undergraduate research, studying abroad, hands-on engineering design projects and applied learning in internships.
Through my undergraduate research, I learned valuable analytical mathematical modeling skills that directly prepared me for my first rotation at GM as a safety CAE integration engineer. My four years of experience with the engineering design process at WSU made it easier to remain focused on user needs as I entered the product development team at GM, where the mindset to keep our customers at the center of everything we do was already second nature for me.
I also gained valuable cultural intelligence skills through studying abroad at Zhejiang University of Technology in Hangzhou, China as part of the cross-cultural engineering problem solving program focused on sustainable transportation. I had the opportunity to take trips to Beijing, Shanghai and Huangshan to totally immerse myself in Chinese culture, and I gained valuable experience leading a global cross-functional team of four Chinese and two American students to improve automotive safety systems, which ultimately equipped me to work for a global OEM.
WSU’s M.S. curriculum in injury biomechanics provided plenty of real-world examples throughout my coursework with direct application to the automotive industry. I found this particularly motivating since I was pursuing my graduate degree taking four to eight credits per semester while working full-time at GM, and I was fortunate to be able to immediately apply my learnings in the field of vehicle safety and crashworthiness and provide industry insight for my classmates.
All of these experiences helped to prepare me for the future and propelled me with confidence into the next stage of my life and career after graduation.
Who influenced you the most during your time at Wayne State?
I had an existential crisis my sophomore year of undergrad, when I realized I was still squeamish around needles. Talking with my professor/undergraduate program chair, Dr. Michele J. Grimm, I started to come to terms with the fact that I might not enjoy a career in medicine, despite the fact that I had already spent my childhood assuring everyone that my dream career was to be a pediatrician, and I had just completed the pre-med curriculum above and beyond my engineering coursework to give myself a competitive edge when I thought I’d be applying to medical school. She helped me reframe my passion for injury biomechanics and biomedical engineering so that I could create a new vision for my future career as an engineer, STEM advocate and community leader with a focus on prevention of injury or trauma, rather than treatment in a clinical setting. This career direction pivot was game-changing for me since it inspired me to fully embrace technical opportunities without needing to change my major and empowered me to finally be able to envision myself as an engineer.
Dr. Grimm proved to be a phenomenal mentor and advocate for my academic and professional development during the rest of my undergraduate career at WSU. I was grateful to be able to work closely with her to conduct research for my Honors thesis through the UROP program. I learned how to use computer modeling software that is widely used in the automotive industry to conduct virtual crash testing, in order to study the potential health implications of an infant’s shoulder becoming lodged in the maternal pelvis during birth. My involvement in this research led to the opportunity for me to help coordinate the first international multidisciplinary Neonatal Brachial Plexus Palsy (NBPP) Conference in 2014, held at Wayne State University in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, WSU Biomedical Engineering Department, WSU School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School.
What is the most important thing you learned at WSU?
We all have the tenacity to design innovative solutions that can make a lasting impact, both in Detroit and across the globe. The pace of change is faster now than it has ever been in the course of human history and we, as engineers, are the driving force behind that innovation. With this knowledge comes great power and tremendous responsibility to perform our duties in an ethical manner, as all graduates vow to do during “The Order of the Engineer,” “Professional Order of Engineering Technology” or “Pledge of the Computing Professional” ceremonies. If we are to remain commanders of our technological advances, we must accept the responsibility for using them wisely and understanding the consequences.
As engineers, we must think about how our decisions will affect society as a whole when designing new products or implementing systems, keeping the safety and well-being of our customers and all those who interface with the results of our work, as well as the impact of our decision on our global environment, at the forefront of everything we do. No matter your rank, title or tenure, it is essential to take personal responsibility and ownership of your work, and don’t make any decisions in private that you’d be embarrassed if it became public knowledge later — and I challenge you to hold your colleagues to the same high standards. As Warriors, we must openly stand for the best after graduation, and it is our duty to maintain this system of professional ethics by upholding the principles of honesty and integrity in everything we do.
What advice do you have for current students who want to make the most out of their experience at Wayne State?
Own your story that brought you to WSU, stay curious and open to learning from everyone who crosses your path, cultivate adaptability as things don’t go according to plan and embrace a breadth of interests as new opportunities arise that might not have been on your radar when you started pursuing your degree. You’ll have plenty of incredible opportunities for personal growth through the experiences that invite you to explore the fringes of your comfort zone (such as studying abroad, pursuing undergraduate research, running for leadership positions in student organizations, applying for awards or scholarships, entering into a design competition, presenting at conferences, interviewing for internships/co-ops, seeking a mentor, etc.). Always remember that, as Suzy Kassem said, “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
No matter where your path may lead, make it a priority to continue to pay it forward by mentoring, tutoring and inspiring the next generation. I truly believe that, in the words of Robert Ingersoll, “we rise by lifting others” and that it is never too early or too late to start giving back and sharing the lessons you’ve learned along your own journey.
Feel free to share any additional information about you and your WSU experience.
Remember that the prestige of Wayne State University is measured by the individual achievements of her graduates — and that as you honor her by ethics and excellence in your work, she in turn will honor you. After graduation, once you become a formally inducted member of your profession working to forge your own path and attain success in your professional career, do not forget your alma mater. Remember the faculty, administration and staff, researchers and mentors, alumni and friends who made up the faces of our inclusive community of learning and innovation that molded you into the Wayne State engineer “Made in Detroit” that you should be proud to call yourself today.