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SWE member Rachael Fischer, right, with alumna Sheri Smithey, who gave the Ida Wilson Lecture – named for the first female engineering alumna – at the 2009 Green Tea.

For the third consecutive year, the University of Missouri’s student chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has hosted an MU Engineering alumna as a guest lecturer for their annual Engineers’ Week Green Tea.

Sheri Smithey, manager – process engineering for Nestle Purina PetCare PTC gave the third annual Ada Wilson guest lecture on March 14. The event is named in honor of the first woman to graduate from Mizzou Engineering. Smithey earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from MU in 1989, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in agricultural engineering in 1990 and 1993 respectively. She has worked for Nestle Purina since 1995.

Smithey spoke to the group about “womenomics,” a term coined to explain the growing importance of women in the world economy. “Women are key drivers for economic growth as both consumers and businesswomen,” said Smithey, noting that 80 percent of all purchasing decisions are made by women.

She noted how the balance between one’s life and one’s job has become a key factor in today’s work environment. As companies recognize and acknowledge women’s potential, the career life cycles of men and women, previously more disparate because of women’s domestic roles, are becoming less distinguishable. Flexibility as a family is increasingly important.

“Just because we are seeing these trends,” Smithey cautioned the young women in the audience, “does not mean everything will be easy. Once trust and confidence are established, there is still lots of hard work ahead.”

Now living in St. Louis with her husband and two children — including a 12-year-old daughter who wants to be an engineer — Smithey has traveled the world for her job at Nestle Purina. Most recently she and her family spent two years working in the U.K., before settling back in Missouri.

Smithey works in the research and development group for Nestle Purina.  She is responsible for process development for innovative products/processes, improvement of existing processes, new factory/line start-ups, and technical assistance for global Nestle Purina companies located in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Asia-Oceania-Australia.

Originally from Jefferson City, Smithey said her father always encouraged her to become an engineer, but it wasn’t until she was working on her master’s in food bioprocessing with Fu-Hung Hsieh, a professor in biological engineering, that she made the choice to follow her current career path.

“I like the diversity of what I do. Every day is a little different,” she said. “And for me, success is the only option.”