Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering alumna Jessica Rannow (BS ’99) has been a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for more than half of her life. After receiving a flyer in the mail that discussed mentoring programs within the organization, she joined the UW-Madison SWE student section shortly before her freshman year at the university. Twenty-one years later, she is now the president of the international professional society, which boasts more than 35,000 members and 300 student sections in the United States.
Rannow was never particularly interested in math or science. She got into engineering with an eye for the pragmatic—melding her growing interests in accounting, business and consulting. The sense of organization and a desire for efficiency appealed to her. Through SWE, she was exposed to a tight-knit community of like-minded women, as well as myriad opportunities throughout her undergraduate career.
She received several scholarships through SWE that helped cover her tuition and support her engineering pursuits. She also was able to attend a number of conferences and talks, enabling her to engage with other members and build a lasting network. However, Rannow’s network in college did not stop with SWE—she also was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, the Polygon engineering student council, the Institute of Industrial Engineers, the engineering dean search and screen committee, and founded Wisconsin LeaderShape. After taking EPD 160, Introduction to Engineering, she became a teacher’s assistant for the same class for three years. In addition to her studies, she is proud to have only ever missed two Badger football games during her time in college, specifically to attend a SWE conference. She still remains linked to the university through the ISyE advisory board, visiting campus yearly to provide input on current needs in industry.
After she graduated, Rannow worked in consulting before gravitating toward more logistics-centered positions, and later, roles in management—yet experience and knowledge in supply chains have remained a constant throughout her career. She has continued working in warehouse logistics, providing insight and direction to companies such as Haworth Inc., Limited Brands, Cardinal Health, JCPenney, Vargo Companies and eBizNET Solutions Inc. For Rannow, the fast-paced and product-focused nature of her work has kept her on her toes.
“I’ve been able to work on some of the largest projects for a given company, and because getting a product out the door is super important, you know you’re working on something that’s moving the company forward, and having an impact both on customers and the companies involved,” she says.
At this point in her career, she mostly works at home—currently, in Columbus, Ohio—but otherwise follows her projects wherever they take her. Currently, she balances her time between leadership roles with both SWE and AmerisourceBergen, a drug wholesale company.
While continuing to identify new challenges and opportunities in her career, Rannow has remained dedicated and highly involved in SWE. Since holding positions as vice president and president of the UW-Madison SWE student section, she has held additional leadership positions, first as a Region G governor, then as a director of professional excellence. At the beginning of July 2016, she became the organization’s president. Her drive to become president was motivated by her desire to give back to the organization that first inspired her to pursue an engineering degree, as well as increase her impact in the engineering community.
“Serving as president allows me to not only serve our SWE members, but the skills I’ve obtained have helped me immensely in my career,” Rannow says. “And not to mention the great opportunities for me as SWE president that I’ve had to expand my horizons.”
Sometimes, in a big way: As SWE president, Rannow has been able to travel to Madrid, Spain; attend four regional conferences in the United States and do an arrested landing and catapult launch on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
But above all, Rannow has been motivated by her passion for working with students. There is currently a push to welcome more young students into SWE, encouraging children in kindergarten through grade 12 to become members in order to connect them with positive adult influencers in STEM at an early age. SWE is exploring new and creative ways to interest students in STEM, since the percentage of females earning engineering degrees hasn’t increased significantly since Rannow herself graduated from college. With the advent of social media, she has found it easier to forge connections with younger audiences.
Due in part to the flexibility and support of her current employer AmerisourceBergen, Rannow is able to be more involved in SWE, an organization that has been a highly significant constant in her life. And as president, she plays a crucial role in advocating for greater diversity in engineering and STEM in general.
“We’re working on developing a stronger global presence and continuing to collaborate with corporate partners who want to offer the same opportunities to women overseas that they have in the U.S.,” she says.
Author: Lexy Brodt