Elizabeth Baron runs Ford’s Immersive Virtual Environment (iVE) lab, a state-of-the-art facility she helped create that uses sophisticated virtual reality technology to enable designers and engineers to fully experience a vehicle before it is ever built.
The work that Baron does in Ford’s iVE lab is so advanced and well-renowned that she recently received a call from NASA asking for a tour of the facility.
HerHighway’s Editor in Chief Christina Selter sat down with Elizabeth in Southern California for a one on one interview regarding how the automotive industry has opportunities for women and why it is so important for women to seek a career in automotive. The video is coming soon, but for now enjoy some of the Q&A below.
Who have you mentored?
Anyone who asks! Interns and students (from elementary to grad students); girl scouts, boy scouts, special needs kids, colleagues at Ford.
Did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
Yes, starting with my Dad and Uncle Ted (who both worked for Ford). I’ve had a lot of mentors through the years (at Ford, in academia, family members, etc.). There are still people at Ford I consider mentors to me, even after 24 years with the Company.
As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
I love a really comfortable car, with a great seat and controls and displays within reach and vision. And I’m absolutely smitten with a beautiful design!
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
My experience is that it hasn’t been any more difficult than other industries. Yes, I’ve faced trials and had some tough circumstances put before me, but I attribute that to personalities more than gender. In fact, after having 4 children while employed at Ford, I was able to take 4 to 7 months off work after each child was born. I truly appreciated the time, and that I was not pressured to change my decision.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
My Dad worked for Ford, and he spoke highly of the Company; he thought it would be great if I worked there too someday. When I had reached my one-year anniversary at Ford, my Dad gave me his 25-year anniversary gift from Ford. How cool is that!?
First automotive job?
I started my career at a programmer, so I’ve always been a geek! My first job was as a software developer for Ford’s Product Design Graphics System (PDGS). PDGS was a Ford proprietary Computer-Aided Design tool. My first project was to write an editor for geometric dimensioning and tolerancing notes.
Proudest professional achievement?
I have led the development of immersive virtual reality as a mainstream product development tool at Ford, even though there were plenty of obstacles to doing so. I have stuck with this technology, and have seen many negative opinions turn positive. It has resulted in a fantastic collaboration with Ford sites around the world, including Australia, India and China. And it has resulted in a close collaboration with Ford colleagues in Manufacturing, which is yielding amazing results regarding the perceived quality of our vehicles.
Current challenge at work?
Finding time and resources to do all the cool innovations we know will benefit Ford. Its not a bad problem to have! All in all, we really are resourceful, and do a lot with a little!
I’m living the dream! I really do have my dream job!
What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
I love to bike ride (both road bike and mountain bike). Walking, hiking and backpacking.
What you do to relax?
Spend time with my family. Read. Walk the mile-long trail on our property at home.