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Reaching, Imagining and Making the Unmakeable

By Susan M. Smyth, PhD, FSME, NAE 2020 SME President

Every journey into manufacturing is different. Mine started more than 30 years ago and has taken many paths; these collective experiences led me down the path that allowed me to become SME’s 88th president.

I have spent my career enabling manufacturing organizations and trying to “make the unmakeable.” Not just building something that did not exist before, but literally making things using technology—sometimes existing and sometimes something new that had to be invented—that could not be used before.

So often people think of manufacturing solely through the lens of improving what already exists—using continuous improvement, lean and cost reduction, for example. I spent much of my career in manufacturing R&D, and our role was to invent totally new manufacturing technologies to enable new materials or new products to be developed. I am proud to have worked on projects as varied as the automotive industry’s first resistance spot welding of aluminum to steel for vehicle lightweighting or using sophisticated math and robotics technology to develop assembly and quality systems for battery manufacturing.

Manufacturing is about production, efficiency and continuous improvement. It is also about research, imagination and problem solving—imagining what is unmakeable now and figuring out how to make it. Whichever aspect of manufacturing you work in, success requires the ability to envision and embrace change, and it requires you to work well with others to heighten your impact.

My SME experience is similarly about change and its impact on other people. Over time, SME has evolved into an organization that embraces a diverse cross-section of membership that better reflects many industry experiences. This change has strengthened and better positioned us to lead as manufacturing experiences significant change, both in technology and in our workforce.

My leadership career at SME began with a life-changing call from 2010 SME President Barbara Fossum, PhD, FSME, SME’s first female president, who suggested I run for the SME Board of Directors. She encouraged me to be an example and advocate not just for women in industry, but for all of manufacturing. I am grateful for that call and the encouragement I received from Barbara. If not for her, as well as the encouragement of colleagues and peers at General Motors and beyond, I would not be where I am today.

It has been an amazing decade of change for manufacturing—from the advances in technology to a greater recognition of the importance of manufacturing to our economy and to our nation. The decade ahead of us promises even more dramatic change, both for our manufacturing industries and for SME. These changes provide SME opportunities for growth and leadership.

SME has always been a leader in the battle to inspire, promote and educate the manufacturing community, and to provide people with the opportunity for economic success through manufacturing careers.

When we make it possible for people to achieve their dreams and aspirations, change happens positively and productively—for individuals in their careers and for an industry in the middle of revolutionary technological shifts.

But we should not do it alone. During my career at GM, I made it a point to build alliances and expand the outreach of the organizations I led and to leverage the efforts of others. To advance manufacturing agendas like workforce development, and to achieve the critical mass required to help direct the changes happening in our industry rather than being buffeted by them, we must recognize SME as part of something bigger—as one part of the community of manufacturing

As good as we are on our own, we can be even better with others. Success requires alliances, partnerships and strategic relationships. As I think back on these last 30 years, one of the things I am proudest of are the careers I have had the chance to influence and the people whose career dreams I have had a small part in helping come true. My mission for the next year, and I hope yours as well, is for SME to continue to make aspirations and dreams come true—through our own efforts and through collaboration with the community of manufacturing.

SME Installs 2020 Officers, International Directors and Council Representatives

Pictured is 2019 SME President Mark Michalski (far left) after installing the 2020 officers: Dr. Susan Smyth, Michael Packer, James Schlusemann and Dr. Winston Erevelles. Not pictured is Dr. Dianne Chong.

SME recently installed its new 2020 officers, directors and council representatives in Chicago. The new volunteer leaders began serving their terms this month.

2020 Officers:

  • President—Susan M. Smyth, PhD, FSME, NAE,
    General Motors, Warren, Mich. (retired)
  • President-Elect—Michael D. Packer, FSME,
    Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas
  • Vice President—Dianne Chong, PhD, FSME, NAE, The Boeing Co., Seattle (retired)
  • Treasurer—James W. Schlusemann,
    Prosperia International, Batavia, Ill.
  • Secretary—Winston F. Erevelles, PhD,
    St. Mary’s University, San Antonio

2020 International Directors:

  • Jeffrey A. Abell, FSME, CMfgE, PE,
    General Motors, Warren, Mich.
  • Robert W. Ivester, PhD, FSME,
    Department of Energy (DOE), Washington, D.C.
  • Lonnie J. Love, PhD, FSME,
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, Tenn.
  • Dean S. Phillips, LINK Systems, Nashville

2020 Representatives:

  • Vesna Cota, Tyco Electronics Canada ULC, Markham, Ontario (retired)
  • Jennifer C. Fielding, PhD, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Liberty Township, Ohio
  • Joel Neidig, SIMBA Chain, Plymouth, Ind.
  • Kyle M. Riegel, Schunk Carbon Technology, Waterloo, Iowa
  • Teresa Rinker, PhD, General Motors
    Research & Development, Warren, Mich.
  • William R. “Will” Sniadack, Metso Flow Control USA, Shrewsbury, Mass.
  • Michael R. Watson, LSME, CMfgE, Flanders Corp., Winterville, N.C. (retired)

As the governing body of the organization, the SME Board of Directors establishes business policies and strategic direction, while the SME Member Council formulates recommendations to the board related to SME membership’s overall recruitment, retention and engagement. For a complete list of the 2020 SME Board of Directors and Member Council, visit and

Applicants Needed for 2021-22 Board and Member Council

Applications for 2021-22 SME international directors and Member Council representatives are now being accepted through Feb. 15. Candidates are elected by the voting membership of SME and serve a two-year term on the SME Board of Directors and Member Council.

International Director Qualifications—If elected, all candidates must agree to become an SME member (if not already) and remain in good standing during the duration of term. Ideally, a potential candidate should have the qualifications to hold the office of SME president.

SME Member Council Qualifications—All candidates must be current SME members who have the qualifications that would make him/her a potential candidate for the SME Board of Directors.

Both roles require a proven track record of professional or business leadership in the field of manufacturing with the ability to strategically plan and organize, lead people, produce results, good communication and people skills, and familiarity with some facet of manufacturing technology. Additional information and responsibilities as well as the application are available at

Scholarship Application is Now Open!

The SME Education Foundation is seeking scholarship applicants for the 2020-21 school year. The Foundation annually awards millions of dollars in scholarships to deserving students. Eligibility requirements:

  • Graduating U.S. or Canadian high school senior, current undergraduate or graduate student enrolling as part-time or full-time undergraduate or graduate student at an accredited college or university in the U.S. or Canada for the next fall term.
  • Minimum GPA of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale or 70 on a 100 point (%) scale.
  • Pursuing a degree in a qualifying major.

SME Education Foundation Family Scholarships are exclusive to students with at least one parent or grandparent who has been an SME member in good standing for at least the previous two years. Four students will be awarded with scholarships ranging from $20,000-$40,000 paid in installments. Deadline is Feb. 1. Apply at

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