Customer Driven

Kathryn D’Alessandro applies integrative thinking to connect products for the common good

If one day you find yourself marveling at how products are connecting to save energy and money, you may want to thank Kathryn D’Alessandro.

D’Alessandro, who graduated in December 2021 with a MEng. degree in Systems Engineering + Design, ISD, is focused on integrating engineering disciplines to improve how products connect with each other to better serve customers and the planet.

“We often miss the mark because we don’t deliver the products customers actually need,” she said. “We need to start with systems engineering and consumer needs to better understand engineering requirements, connecting technology and design science to the needs of people.”

Connecting Products

D’Alessandro is working full time on the KitchenAid Architecture Team as a Project Engineer in Benton Harbor, Mich. 

“At ISD, I took a variety of classes to better understand how everything in a system connects to everything else and to users, and how the integration of these disciplines would be useful for customers,” she said. “Now, I am applying those lessons in the real world, creating and connecting products people will see and use.”

In her previous role as an Associate Engineer in the WERLD Rotational Program, she was responsible for generating cost savings of $1.2M through the execution of multiple dishwasher cost-reduction projects, designing experiments to answer questions about consumer needs and use of appliances with connectivity, developing a new stand mixer attachment, closing technical knowledge gaps, and identifying and addressing refrigerator quality issues using Six Sigma methods.

Bubblegum Epiphany

Growing up in Newtown, Conn., D’Alessandro always wanted to be a journalist and was interested in English and literature. 

Although she would later write for the Newtown High School student newspaper, she had an epiphany during a seventh grade engineering experiment. She learned how to make a gumball machine from a Dixie paper cup.

“Back then, I had never even heard of engineering,” she said. “There are no engineers in my family, so I got hooked on figuring out how to take simple things and make them useful after my teacher told me ‘you should think about engineering.’” 

Hooked is an understatement.

Attending Newtown High School from 2014-18, D’Alessandro excelled in chemistry, math, and physics classes. “Physics especially led me to mechanical engineering,” she said. “Physics connected my life and the world around me to concepts from my math classes.”

Integrative Thinking

After excelling in college and graduating with a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame in May 2018, D’Alessandro knew she wanted to go to graduate school and would likely be accepted to most. Following her comprehensive research nationally and design to connect products, she chose ISD.

“The University of Michigan is a great school, and seeing how ISD connects engineering with the user side through Systems Engineering + Design, I knew ISD was the place for me,” she said. “ISD’s focus on integrative is one of the reasons I chose Systems Engineering. I have a variety of interests, and ISD was a cool opportunity to see different sides of engineering, working with interdisciplinary folks in the real world.”

Connecting Products

D’Alessandro dreams of someday leading a small product development firm because she loves close interaction with clients and working with an interdisciplinary in-house staff.

“We would be making products through systems thinking,” said D’Alessandro, who loves cooking and baking in her free time and is an avid news reader. “We would explore how our products interact better with other products to benefit society such as through energy efficiency. We would reduce waste, reuse energy, and connect systems to make them smarter than say turning on and off a product. Our goal would be to make products net zero, and connect our whole world through the Internet of Things.”

Her advice to budding engineers is to not worry about being labeled.

“Engineering is always changing, always flexible, and there are other areas you can move into if you choose, so don’t sweat the label,” she said. “Follow what interests you.”