At the start of 2019, Mrs Suzanne Beckstoffer took the helm of SNAME (Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers) as President, being the first woman to hold this position in the association’s 125-year history. In our column, Mrs Beckstoffer further explains us how exciting an engineering career is for women, albeit the professional challenges which made her stronger and a more competent person. She also advises us on having a ‘positive can-do attitude’ in any new challenge and devoting time to learn new skills to be able to deal with new types of problems.
SAFETY4SEA: How did it come about that you joined shipping industry and your field of expertise specifically?
Suzanne Beckstoffer: I started my career as a structural engineer. Originally I wanted to design bridges, but couldn’t find a job in that field, so I went into shipbuilding instead. My original plan was to work there for only a couple years, but I continued to enjoy new opportunities and eventually spent 34 years with Newport News Shipbuilding.
S4S: What about your current job/ role most excites you and why?
S.B.: I’m excited about becoming President of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. SNAME has been my professional society for my whole career and remains the core of my maritime network, so I’m honored to have been elected President. SNAME is an international organization and I’m looking forward to visiting our 19 professional and 44 student sections around the globe.
S4S: When you think of the word successful who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
S.B.:I think Education has been a continuous thread through my entire family. I am proud to watch the expanding levels of higher education and advanced degrees in each generation. I would credit my grandparents with successfully instilling the love of learning and passing along that value through the generations.
S4S: Who is/was the most influential person/mentor to you & why ?
S.B.:My 10th grade math teacher Mrs. Baldwin is the person who first steered me toward an engineering career. I will always be grateful to her. When I was 15, she drove another girl and me to a university conference on engineering careers for women. I took one look at the water lab in the civil engineering building and I was hooked!
S4S: What is the best and what was the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given and why?
S.B.:The best piece of advice I ever got was from my Great-Aunt Esther. She was born in 1892 and was truly a progressive career woman and role model. She told me to “Always remember who you are, no matter where you are.” She understood what it was like to face professional challenges and she encouraged me to always remain the strong and competent person she believed I could be. She lived to age 98 and I was fortunate to have her in my life for so many years.
The worst advice I ever got was early in my shipbuilding career. One of the fellows I worked with was none too pleased to have a woman in the office. He very pointedly told me they’d had a girl there once and had “run her off.” I guess he expected to scare me away, but obviously it didn’t work!
S4S: What is the most worthwhile career investment (in energy, time, money) you’ve ever made?
S.B.:There were many times I took on challenging assignments, not knowing much about the particular subject. I feel the time I had to spend learning new skills and dealing with new types of problems has proven valuable in having a well-rounded and adaptable skill set.
S4S: If you could give a piece of advice to your18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be and why?
S.B.: I think the best advice is “Start with a YES” and then figure out how to do the project. Over the years, I came to appreciate the value of a positive can-do attitude.
S4S: In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your business life?
S.B.:Since retiring from a terrific shipbuilding career, I’ve had the opportunity to focus my time and energy on a few carefully selected priorities. I created a planner book for this next phase in my life, with about a dozen goals and action plans for each. It’s great fun to periodically check off the steps toward achieving each of those goals.
S4S: What would you like to change in the current maritime landscape and your area of expertise specifically and why?
S.B.:I’m a strong supporter of STEM education and exposing more children to the exciting career opportunities in the maritime and offshore industries. Kids need to know how cool engineering can be!
S4S: What is your personal motto?
S.B.:When I retired from shipbuilding, I decided to devote my “professional give-back” time to engineering education and financial literacy. It’s rewarding to focus my volunteer efforts on those two areas and to be able to make a difference in people’s professional and personal lives.
About Suzanne Beckstoffer
Suzanne started her career as a structural engineer. Originally, she wanted to design bridges, but couldn’t find a job in that field, so she went into shipbuilding instead. Her original plan was to work there for only a couple years, but she continued to enjoy new opportunities and eventually spent 34 years with Newport News Shipbuilding. At the start of 2019, Suzanne took the helm of SNAME (Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers) as President, being the first woman to hold this position in the association’s 125-year history.