Kara-Gordon-Chevrolet-Herhighway

Kara Gordon GM Noise & Vibration Performance Development Engineer>

Kara Gordon is specially trained to have highly trained hearing. In her position as the lead acoustic noise engineer for the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu she can detect sounds an average person cannot, in places a customer would never think to investigate.

Auto owners expect an interior that’s whisper-quiet – regardless of a vehicle’s price – and reducing, blocking or eliminating wind, tire and road noise from various parts of a vehicle can be a daunting task.

“Throughout the development of the new Chevy Malibu we focused on what it’s like to be in the car audibly,” explained Gordon. “Since the new Malibu will be sold in nearly 100 countries and driven on a variety of road surfaces in many different environments, we needed to ensure that the interior would be quiet for all of our customers, wherever the vehicle may be driven.”

Gordon’s mission as a noise engineer is to identify and eliminate as much noise as possible from entering a vehicle’s cabin. She accomplishes this through road testing, advanced sound evaluation tools, anechoic chamber testing, vehicle component testing and the use of materials engineered to reduce noise. As a result of Gordon’s work, the new Malibu is Chevrolet’s quietest vehicle ever, and is expected to be among the quietest vehicles in the midsize segment.

Since joining GM in 2000, Gordon has been responsible for acoustic development on the first Saturn Vue, first- and second-generation Buick LaCrosse and the current generation Chevrolet Impala.

A native of Grand Blanc, Mich., Gordon earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan State University. When she is not eradicating noise, she enjoys spending time with her husband and children, organic gardening, drawing, crafting and yoga. Gordon is currently restoring her 100-year-old home.

HerHighway’s Editor in Chief Christina Selter interviewed Kara regarding how the automotive industry has great opportunities for women. The video is coming soon, but for now enjoy some of the Q&A below.

Who have you mentored, or did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
I was very lucky, my first job out of graduate school was as a systems engineer where we basically wrote vehicle specifications for things like braking distance and noise levels and then worked with different groups to ensure they were met. I had a direct mentor who was not only a great engineer but a fantastic teacher. He took the time to answer every one of my questions and spend time with me to teach me everything I needed to know. Not surprisingly, he is teaching courses at GM these days. I am now an Acoustics Development Engineer and the job is very hands on. I have been able to pass my knowledge on to several college students and recent hires because it is not a skill they can learn from books. Having to explain what, how and why can be challenging, it makes you better at what you do.

As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
I have to say first, the radio, I love music in the car. My boys love to sing along, and so do I. We get a few laughs as we sing and dance, but it keeps them entertained. The new Malibu not only offers a great sound system, but it adds the XM/Sirius channels and my absolute favorite, Pandora, which can stream through your smart phone. The steering wheel controls are fantastic because I am a terrible channel flipper. My other less technical favorite has to be the seats, with the amount of time spent in the car being comfortable is a critical need for me. The new Malibu seats are the most comfortable I have ever sat in, and I can say that because we often spend several 12 hour days in these cars to assess performance on all kinds of roads.

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
I think it all depends on where you come from. I was blessed to have been raised in a house where gender boundaries just didn’t exist. I grew up playing with baseballs and Barbies. At school I was great at math and science, but I was also an artist, drawing and painting. In high school, my father insisted if you owned a car, you worked on it yourself. The world was wide open to me. It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I realized that people had definitions about what a girl was supposed to do. I tend to go my own way, I don’t let other people define me. I find it pretty humorous when people try. When I started in engineering, it really never concerned me that it was a majority male, I’m not sure I thought about it. These days, it is not so unusual and we are just part of the fabric of what makes a great team.

Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I have to be honest, I never even thought about being an engineer growing up, I dreamed of becoming an artist. Engineering happened to me in college as sort of a dare, a person told me it would be too hard. I took a class, and to my great surprise I found a creative outlet for my math and science. I also have a love of cars that comes from my mom. The woman refused to own anything that had more than two doors and currently has a convertible that, even in the Midwest, is top down a majority of the time. Growing up in Michigan, the auto industry is everywhere. It just sort of fell together for me, and I couldn’t be happier. I bring a real passion to my work. We practically live in our cars these days and I want the Malibu customer to love the drive, not just own an appliance.

First automotive job?
When I was going to college, they wouldn’t give you these safe desk jobs, I was a shipping and receiving supervisor in GM’s Flint Truck & Bus Stamping plant. Talk about a trial by fire! My first day, I had a more experienced male employee tell me to my face that no little girl was ever going to tell HIM what to do. But it was great, the crew got used to me pretty quickly, I let them do their jobs and stuck to the real work which was logistics and coordinating the crew. Every day I had to figure out how to get material all across the country to keep plants running. It was challenging, but I learned to love manufacturing, watching sheets of metal get turned into car parts was exciting. By the end of the summer they told me I had been a fantastic boss, and I learned to love building cars.

Proudest professional achievement?
It’s so hard to pick one, I work on so many fantastic projects, but the Malibu has to be a real highlight. This is a car I don’t feel like I lost a lot of battles on and that I have been thrilled to recommend to everyone. It is amazingly quiet, from the engine to the road noise. As an added bonus, I got to go to the media launch of the car with the press and now I am one of the Malibu Moms. So much of what I do happens in the background, that to be given a chance to show off an accomplishment has been an amazing opportunity.

Current challenge at work?
There is an ever changing landscape of what people expect from their vehicles. The rising gas prices and fuel economy standards have long reaching effects. In order to use less fuel cars have to be lighter. It seems simple, but we also expect the vehicle to be safe, which usually adds weight. Then it must have all the fun gadgets we have come to expect, also heavy. My job is to make the car quiet, to do that we hide sound absorbing materials behind surfaces. It’s a lot to balance, so I have to really get creative with the types of materials we use and very systematic in our design to ensure that we give the customer what they expect in the most efficient way possible.

Dream job?
I would love to vary my reach beyond my area and work more with the whole car. The lead development engineer balances across many areas, ride and handling, noise and vibration, fuel economy and safety. They really shape the whole car and the customer experience. I would love to have that impact on a vehicle.

What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
In high school I rode horses, I had two spirited Arabians that were always a challenge. I also skied recreationally with my family. In college I was part of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and I participated in several honor societies that worked with handicap services on campus – reading to and tutoring the visually impaired. These days, I love yoga. I have been practicing for over 12 years, it is part of my daily routine and one of the major ways I relax and center myself, as well as stay fit.

What you do to relax?
I try to do yoga each morning, it really helps get me focused for the day. It’s that little bit of quiet before the house wakes up and chaos takes over. I live in an old farmhouse that my husband and I are working slowly to restore, it’s a huge project and we do almost everything ourselves. Because we have over five acres, I am a big gardener – flowers and large vegetable garden in the summer. With what I grow and can buy at the farmers market and local orchards I make sauces, jams, jellies and pickles for my family so we eat as healthy as possible. It helps me, as a mom, know I am doing the best for my family. In the winter, I crochet blankets and other warm items for our family and friends as gifts. I take a lot of satisfaction in seeing a finished project, which is probably why I like being an engineer.