Katherine Herrick is a leader at Raytheon, one of the top engineering and defense firms in the country.
How did Herrick (BSE MSE PhD, Electrical Engineering, 1993 1995 2000), Senior Fellow and Chief Engineer at Raytheon, become a leader at a leading company?
Along with her own engineering prowess and hard work, she did it with the help of mentors. From them, she learned both engineering principles and life skills, and ultimately, the importance of supporting and advocating for younger engineers.
Now, she herself wants to give back to the next generation of engineers.
An elementary electrical engineering education
Her father, Don Herrick (MSE, Electrical Engineering and Math, 1975), taught engineering in college, and brought Katherine along to his classes when she was in grade school. She often answered questions his students could not – with a little help.
At the start of class, Don would tell Katherine to remember an answer, like “Bessel functions.”
“I would sit all nervous, thinking, ‘Bessel functions, Bessel functions,’” Katherine recalls. “He would call on the class with a question, and no one would answer. He would say, ‘Katherine, do you know the answer?’ And I would finally get to say: ‘Bessel function.’ The whole class would fall out of their seats laughing.”
These early, enjoyable experiences with both electrical engineering and higher education set Herrick on a trajectory to lead others, and, of course, learn about Bessel functions.
More than the technical
Following the experiences in her father’s classes, Herrick’s next formative engineering experience came from an undergraduate research opportunity she found while taking an introductory electromagnetics class. The summer position, which was located in the Radiation Lab (Radlab), allowed her to work closely with graduate students and directly under a professor, Linda Katehi.
We were known as the ‘Michigan Mafia’ because we won all of the student awards.Katherine Herrick, Raytheon
“It was a great way to understand if I might like graduate school,” says Herrick. “In undergrad classes, it can be hard to see how concepts are applied. Seeing how the theories were applied in the Radlab really sparked all my future study.”
Herrick decided on graduate school and joined Katehi’s research group working on microwave and millimeter-wave micromachined circuits for communications applications.
She recalls attending the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society (MTT-S) International Microwave Symposium with Katehi’s group and other Radlab members.
“We were known as the ‘Michigan Mafia’ because we won all of the student awards,” says Herrick. She added to Michigan’s reputation, winning a student paper award the first time that she presented.
“For me to have won that award so quickly is a credit to Linda Katehi,” Herrick says. “We rehearsed, made sure the facts were right, and checked that the writing was spot on. She taught us life skills, not just electromagnetics.”
“I can’t thank Linda enough,” Herrick continues. “She was a fierce supporter of her students, a clear advocate for women, and she really took the time to help you feel that you could accomplish your goals.”
During this time, Herrick also learned the power of a confident answer. When preparing for qualifying exams, her colleague gave a strong answer to a question. Herrick hesitantly gave a different answer, though one she thought true.
“I was actually correct,” Herrick says. “They said that my colleague was totally wrong, but he sounded good.” From this, Herrick learned to be more confident, even when all the facts or data are not available, or when she is the sole female voice.
Her graduate work continues to be relevant with emerging technologies, including 5G cell phone networks and automotive radar.
A PhD paying off
After Michigan, Herrick began her lifelong career at Raytheon.
In her current role, she serves as Program Manager and Chief Engineer. In the past, she has led groups to help determine future directions in innovation and research within the company.
I can spot Michigan alumni from their work.Katherine Herrick
When first interviewing at Raytheon, she believes an important differentiator between her and other candidates was her actual fabrication experience in a solid-state clean room.
Another differentiator that continues to reap benefits for Herrick is her doctoral degree itself.
“A lot of my colleagues went into academia. With a PhD in industry, you can come in to a company at a higher level, at a higher pay grade, and advance to higher technical roles faster.”
Now hiring for Raytheon herself, Herrick sees firsthand the caliber of students that come from Michigan. “I can spot Michigan alumni from their work,” she says. “They have a pride in accomplishment and they care about what they are doing.”
Paying it forward
With her father and PhD advisor setting the example of paying it forward, Herrick believes in helping those who are younger that need support.
She gives back to the Department by serving on the ECE Council, an advisory group that helps with key priorities of Michigan ECE. She hopes to help students understand how their research positively impacts society, as well as help them find satisfying careers, especially at Raytheon.
Herrick also participates in her daughter’s afterschool STEM club. She teaches the children how to find something they’re passionate about, and how to confidently turn that passion into action.
For college students, she recommends students seek out mentors from the alumni base, as its large support network is full of willing advisors.
“The best part about being an engineer is the ability to be innovative, creative, and make an impact,” says Herrick, who has proven there are many ways to make an impact.