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Morning Sun
  • Going far with Ford

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  • Growing up in Cherokee and Pittsburg, Heather Seybold Knechtges never thought she’d become a world traveler. That was before she became a product design engineer for the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich. Since joining Ford in 2006 she has traveled quite a bit to instruct, test and investigate her particular subject areas of gasoline fuel filtration and electrostatic discharge. “I make sure that anywhere in the car where there’s fuel, except for the engine, there is no risk of spark,” Knechtges said during a recent trip to Pittsburg. The Pittsburg State University graduate gave a presentation to the regional chapter of the American Chemical Society Thursday at Pittsburg State University, discussing ESD, which can literally be a life-threatening situation if it occurs. “When you re-fuel your car, you don’t want static electricity around the fuel system,” Knechtges said. She noted that static electricity tends to occur more in cold temperatures. “We wanted to do some testing where it was cold, so they sent me to Siberia,” Knechtges said. “It was a big joke at work. People kept asking me what I’d done so bad that I was being sent to Siberia. I tell them that my trip to Siberia was the experience of a lifetime that I hope I don’t repeat.” She said that Ford has an assembly plant at St. Petersburg, Russia. She also spent time in Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, one of Siberia’s largest cities. “It was minus 38 degrees in Irkutsk the day I left to come home,” Knechtges said. “Everyone was in fur coats.” She also visited Russian dealerships and examined auto parts, and found that almost everyone she met spoke some English. “In Russia they start to learn English or some other second language in second grade,” she said. “It was humbling. We are starting to do better in the United States about teaching other languages in school.” She had an opportunity to do some sightseeing, including visiting Lake Baikal, the largest fresh-water lake in the world, and Red Square in Moscow. “When I was standing in the middle of Red Square, I remembered that when I was a kid the Russians were our enemy,” Knechtges said. “I probably would never have been able to do that 20 years ago.” She said that the Russians were friendly and gracious to her, though the seemed to keep to themselves more than Americans do. “The food is so different,” Knechtges said. “I loved it, lots of cured meat, really good cheeses and rye-based breads.” The Russians are a very proud people who hold on to their traditions and are very proud of their culture.” Vodka is a big part of the culture. “I don’t drink very much, but people were constantly asking me, ‘You want vodka?’” she said. Russian society also has problems. “People there still live in government housing in a terrible state of repair,” Knechtges said. Russian women also lack some opportunities that American women have. “It’s not common for women over there to work in the type of job I have,” she said. “There are maybe two women working in the Ford plant in St. Petersburg, which is a fairly large assembly plant. The hard thing for women now in the Russian workplace is the lack of day care. Many women who want to work there have to wait until their children are in school.” In 2010 Ford sent Knechtges to Germany, the United Kingdom and France. She also had a work-related trip to Istanbul, Turkey. “It’s so densely populated, and I’m kind of claustrophobic,” Knechtges said. “The Grand Bazaar there has been around since the time of Christ. The spice market on Saturday is the equivalent of Times Square.” Her travels are probably not over yet. She’s thinks that she’ll probably be sent to a Ford plant in China one of these years. “A lot of my colleagues have been to China already, and some of them from China have come here,” Knechtges said. The daughter of Steve and Nancy Seybold, she credits her parents with empowering her. Her mother, a longtime Pittsburg High School chemistry teacher, always told her she could do whatever she wanted to do. “My dad said, ‘Figure out what you want to do with your life, because you’ll probably have to do it the rest of your life until you retire’,” Knechtges said. “I’ve always been enamored of cars and grew up going to car shows, so this seemed like a dream job.” She graduated from PSU with a bachelor of science in chemistry in 1996 and a master of science in plastics engineering technology in 1998. She was recognized as a PSU Outstanding Alumni in 2008.

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