A very wise woman once said (in The Sound of Music’s beloved “Do-Re-Mi”) “Let’s start at the very beginning./ A very good place to start.” It’s so simple but it makes so much sense. So, what is the beginning for me? What stars aligned to bring me to this place in this moment writing this blog post (while simultaneously watching the a marathon of the masterpiece that is How I Met Your Mother)? It can really be boiled down to one book and three people.

I have always loved to read and I cannot remember a time when Cheaper by the Dozen wasn’t easily in my top five favorite books. Cheaper by the Dozen tells the story of how Frank and Lillian Gilbreth raised their 12 children. Though they are well known for their contributions to Industrial Engineering (IE), the book details their home life and how they incorporated engineering principles into everyday activities. From Frank’s doing a time study on the childrens’ tonsillectomies to requiring every child to fill out a daily work chart, some of the basic principles and jargon of the IE curriculum are seamlessly incorporated into an extremely entertaining book. (Really, it’s funny. You will laugh out loud and it would make me very happy if you would read it.) I’ve read Cheaper by the Dozen more times than I can count, and a common theme runs through the entire story. While Lillian was a pioneer in the field of human factors and scientific management, she still managed to balance her personal life with her work engagements. She had her PhD in psychology at a time when it was extremely uncommon for a female and was frequently called upon to share her expert opinion at engineering conferences to a primarily male audience. With all of the acclaim that she received as an expert in her field, her children instead remembered her as someone who “raised twelve only children” – giving each of them the time and attention to feel as though they were the most important person in the world. She managed to have an extremely successful career while keeping her family first. So there you have it…the book and the first person that helped to bring me to where I am now.

lgilbrethLillian Moller Gilbreth, taken in 1921
Rutgers University Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives

The second influential person is not so surprising when you really think about it. She’s one of the few people that has literally known me for my entire life. She fought with me over books from when we were wee little things and one time accidentally hit me in the head with a swing, but I still love her. You might have used your excellent deductive reasoning skills to figure out that this woman is my sister. Her name is Josie and she’s pretty cool.

On her wedding day

On her wedding day

We’re about equally photogenic, so I decided to go with an accurate picture of the two of us. Well one day in the fall of 2003, Josie had already decided on attending Mississippi State University, but she was deciding on a major. She stumbled upon the Industrial and Systems Engineering tent and the rest is history. In the fall of 2004, she began her freshman year at MSU in ISE and she went on to be extremely successful in the program. Over the next 2 years, she decided that since she knew me better than pretty much anyone else in the world, she also knew what would be the best major for me. I don’t think she had to work too hard, but she did play a key role in causing me to enroll in the ISE department.

Then she convinced me to run a marathon. Ouch. But thanks for the motivation 🙂

After the marathon...everything hurt at this point.

After the marathon…everything hurt at this point.


She also did one more thing that kind of changed the course of my future. In my freshman year at MSU, my sister tipped me off to the fact that one of her professors was looking for some undergraduate students to help with research. What she did was introduce me to the third person I mentioned…

Dr. B and her daughter, Josie, and Scott

Dr. B and her daughter, Josie, and Scott

Dr. Kari Babski-Reeves, or Dr. B, is the professor who needed undergraduate researchers. She’s the one sitting down in the picture.  (Scott is my brother in law and he is the one standing up…He’s just awesome so I wanted to mention him.) Dr. B played an extremely important role in my life over the 6 years that I spent at MSU working on my BS and then my MS. She gave me my first job that I actually enjoyed and introduced me to the wonderful world of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE). In addition to being well known in her field, she mentored me and let me rant in her office for more hours than I can count. Prior to teaching at MSU, she was a professor at Virginia Tech. She put Tech on my radar as a possible school for further education but didn’t hold it against me when I needed to take a break from HFE and took a job in supply chain instead. When I realized that perhaps supply chain wasn’t the best fit for me, she still helped me to apply to graduate schools at the last minute.

Dr. B with me

Dr. B with me

So Lillian Gilbreth, Josie, Dr. B, and Cheaper by the Dozen combined all in some way contributed to me being here now. Each one of them has a special place in my heart and I’m so glad that they have played a role in my life. They’ve helped to bring me to this new beginning.

Now let’s see where it takes me next!

1 Comment

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One Response to Beginnings

  1. KG

    Nice post Missie! You’ve given me some ideas for future posts of my own, so thanks for that. I would have to say that two of the most influential people in my life have also been a sibling and an early employer.

    Although I don’t know diddly about Industrial Engineering, the book you describe sounds interesting. I’ve been toying with writing a post about the most recent books I’ve read, and what I’m hoping to read next. Cheaper By the Dozen may have to be added to the list.

    I hope you keep in touch with your undergraduate advisor; mine has continued to play a significant role in my career for going on ten years now. He not only has been a great advocate of mine when in need of job references, but he’s really helped me put into perspective the work-life balance associated with being a career scientist in academia.

    Thanks again for the post!

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