Suzanne Cody General Motors Aerodynamic Development Lead Engineer>

Suzanne Cody is the General Motors Aerodynamic Development Lead Engineer on the 2012 Chevrolet Malibu so she is a rocket scientist by education, a mother of two, and a popular roller derby skater known by fans as “Shovey Camaro,” named after Chevrolet’s Camaro sports sedan.

She also knows a thing or two about aerodynamics. As an aerodynamic engineer Cody’s job is to shape every part of a vehicle so that it reduces wind drag and helps the vehicle to achieve maximum fuel economy – which means a savings for customers at the pump. Engineers like Cody work with designers to develop a vehicle’s shape and structure so that it gets the best fuel economy for the customer without sacrificing the car’s design.

In the case of the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, Cody’s work has really paid off – the vehicle is the most aerodynamic midsize car Chevrolet has ever built. To accomplish this, the aero team spent more than 400 hours at GM’s wind tunnel facility in Warren, Mich., – sometimes running midnight or weekend shifts – to test and re-test the Malibu until they obtained the best possible fuel-saving performance for the car.

“Negotiating the competing interests of design, manufacturing and vehicle engineers, all of whom have different goals for an individual part or the vehicle’s overall design, can be challenging,” said Cody. “But we all had a common goal – to give Malibu owners around the world a fuel-efficient vehicle.”

Cody joined General Motors in 1999 and, aside from the Malibu, has worked on a variety of vehicles including the Chevrolet Camaro, Saab SUV, Pontiac G6, Cadillac SRX and Saturn Ion. She is currently working on confidential future vehicles.

A Michigan native, Cody earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. When she’s not at work Cody enjoys spending time with her children, skating roller derby for the Bath City Roller Girls, and devoting her time to a local moms group she organizes called “Macomb Moms.” The group works to plan and assist various women and family-oriented charities in Southeast Michigan.

HerHighway’s Editor in Chief Christina Selter interviewed Suzanne regarding how the automotive industry is perfect 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 started in this job fresh out of college, my office mate and mentor was a very experienced engineer with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford. He taught me to be confident and to speak my mind. He had been here at GM for quite some time and was instrumental in helping me to earn respect among the people that were more established in the industry. He knew a lot about engineering judgment and taught me to check the data thoroughly, then to trust it.

As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
The first thing that affects me about a car is the exterior styling. I love a beautiful, sexy-looking vehicle. That’s why I loved my Camaro so much… it was gorgeous. I also loved the Bluetooth interface for my phone and the ability to control an iPod through the radio controls. Some good torque and a manual transmission is the ideal. For me, driving needs to be fun!

Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
The auto industry seems like a “boys club” to an outsider… and to some extent it was. Cars and trucks have been traditionally something that men were passionate about and women just drove out of necessity. Ten years ago, a woman had to prove her interest in the business by showcasing her knowledge. Now it’s not like that at all. It’s significantly more acceptable to be a woman and be in this business. The female public cares about the vehicles they drive, so the automakers care about their female customers in return. Also, more and more women aren’t afraid to be themselves at work. I don’t need to “act like a man”. I can be feminine, and be passionate about cars… it’s all good!

Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I was born and raised in this area. My family is here, and I love being around my family. I always wanted to work in a wind tunnel, and here I have a wind tunnel, my family nearby, and I help shape these beautiful vehicles that I see on the road every day. It’s a perfect situation. Plus, the Detroit culture is great, and I love going downtown. The eclectic nature of this city makes it a great place to be. It’s tough, it’s creative, it’s inventive, and it’s accepting.

First automotive job?
I worked at the GM Willow Run plant on an internship as an industrial engineer. That was my exposure on a plant level. I worked for a contractor. My first GM job is the one I currently have- Aerodynamic Development Engineer of future products. I hope to stay in this role and gain more and more professional expertise.

Proudest professional achievement?
It may seem strange, but my fondest professional achievement to date happened in my first year. I was presenting my data in a meeting and was continually interrupted by one of the lead engineers asking questions before I had a chance to get to them in my presentation. I politely asked him to wait until I could finish my presentation, and if I didn’t answer his questions we would cover them afterwards. I felt it was rude and very pushy behavior to keep interrupting. I was a very young engineer, only 22, but I stood up for myself and didn’t let him intimidate me. That moment set the tone for my entire career. I have accomplished a lot of things on different vehicles, but nothing made me feel as secure with my abilities like standing up for myself. In my opinion, the best technical knowledge means nothing if you can’t communicate it and you need confidence and security to communicate it effectively. Like my mentor told me, “you don’t have to be a timid little violet”.

Current challenge at work?
The biggest challenge at work right now is balancing the schedule. My job requires me to work odd hours (sometimes overnight when my kids are sleeping). Global time zones also lead to some less-than-desirable meeting times. GM is so wonderful about returning the flexibility that I have for them, and we work everything out for the appropriate work-life balance for me and my family. A happy employee works harder for their company, so it’s a win-win situation. I firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child- especially as a single mom- and without the involvement of my ex-husband, and the help from my mom and dad, my friends, and my co-workers I’d never be able to pull it off.

Dream job?
This is it. I love what I do. It’s a perfect mix of computer time, technical work, hands-on wrenching, creativity, planning, and interpersonal relationships. It feeds every aspect of my personality.

What sports or activities did you enjoy in school or/and currently?
I’ve always loved to play sports. At various points I’ve participated in basketball, soccer, skiing, volleyball, softball, football, cross country, and roller derby. I like biking with the kids, running with my dog, and practicing yoga. I like to craft with the kids, do home improvement projects, garden, and build things (I made loft beds for my boys just recently).

What do you do to relax?
In the summer I like to sit on my front porch with an adult beverage, listen to music, roast marshmallows over the fire pit, and watch the neighborhood kids play in the front yard… maybe join in on a good game of tag or kick the can. I like camping, reading, and I’ll never turn down the opportunity for a good bubble bath. (I like long walks on the beach…wait, wrong profile… hahahaha!)