How Did I Get Here?

Author: Robbie Sullivan | Project Engineer

How Did I Get Here

Jeff Disher counseled me “Go to a four-year college, get an internship, and learn to tear things apart and fix them.” And that’s what I did.

How and why did I become a DISHER team member? Last Friday, I found myself in front of the entire company at a staff meeting— a generally uncomfortable place for an engineer to be. I was being celebrated for five years with the DISHER team, joining the ranks of the rock-holders like Kevin Pinner. These moments of recognition often bring about a natural desire to reflect on the journey. My wife and I just had a similar experience as we considered how we went from best friends in college to soul mates to parents of a silly 3-year-old boy. The question I kept asking, “How did I get here?!”

My Path to an Engineering Career at DISHER

As I ponder this question in relationship to my professional career, I realize it began in high school. Math and science were always friendly to me, so the career options I was directed towards related to those fields. Whether right or wrong, I narrowed the options by researching median incomes which is why I’m not talking to you as a Sports Statistician! I do find it funny that my career path was decided in 2003 as a mere Freshman in high school, considering the plethora of questionable decisions I made at that age. I landed on Mechanical Engineering as my top choice and here I am today.

Engineering at DISHER

During high school I was required to do a one-day job shadow. Fortunately, I had a connection at DISHER and was able to see just a small piece of what they did. That’s all I needed. Even though that visit was 14 years ago, I vividly remember seeing a prototype water bed that incorporated innovative sensors and jets that gave targeted massages. I had no idea how I could ever contribute to building something like that— but I was hooked. On the job-shadow questionnaire I had to complete was the question, “How would I best get into this type of work?” Jeff Disher counseled me, “Go to a four-year college, get an internship, and learn to tear things apart and fix them.” And that’s what I did.

I enrolled at Grand Valley State University in 2007, and graduated with a Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering degree. Half-way through the program I was required to start a co-op in an industry, rotating on and off semesters. I applied for five co-ops and was fortunate to garner three interviews. One of my options offered the best pay while another had the best location. But a constant thought kept coming back in my mind, “Nobody was working on projects that were as cool as DISHER’s.”

My Co-Op Experience at DISHER was Awesome

Over the next couple of years, I spent three semesters working at DISHER as a co-op with a variety of clients along the way. I gained experience in: two different CAD packages; prototype building; several industries including automotive and office furniture; and working with private inventors. The icing on the co-op cake was the first project I started with when I got here: The Cool Gadgets Collection (how aptly named). I still have a hand in this effort today. I was chartered to research, interview, explore, and discover innovative gadgets, mechanisms, and materials that we could display at DISHER for creative thought generation internally and for our clients to use as well.

Smart Materials & Cool Gadgets

DISHER Has the Coolest Projects

After college graduation, I didn’t want to jump into a career at DISHER based on my positive co-op experience. I researched and applied to a variety of positions and had several offers outside of DISHER. Again, my mind returned to the same thought: “Nobody was working on projects that were as cool as DISHER’s.”

Cool Projects

On August 20, 2012 I was hired in as a member of DISHER’s core team. Since then I’ve been a part of so many of those cool projects in so many industries including: automotive, office furniture, medical, consumer product, and facilities. I’ve worked in machine design, product design, project engineering, program management, manufacturing engineering, facilitation, and ideation roles. I’ve lead the development of the Cool Gadgets Collection, built presentations on DISHER’s Culture Characteristics, and am currently owning the progress of DISHER’s yearly Personal Development Opportunity (PDO). I have been able to work on several stewardship projects, mentor other co-ops coming on behind me, and present a devotional at our Christmas party. I’ve won the DISHER egg-drop competition, finished second in the ping-pong tournament, and embarrassed myself by trying to play with the indoor soccer team.

To answer my own question, I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up where I am. Honestly, a Forrest Gump quote comes to mind, “I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” What I do know is, if I had the opportunity to go back and build my engineering career again— I wouldn’t change a thing.

DISHER will be actively recruiting at several leading college campuses this fall. We look forward to meeting more students who are passionate about working on cool projects!

 DISHER Career Fairs - Fall Schedule

Written By: Robbie Sullivan, Project Engineer
Robbie has a B.S. in Product Design & Manufacturing Engineering from Grand Valley State University. Primarily working as a Project Engineer, Robbie has a background using internal engineering systems and tools to complete projects while coordinating with suppliers and customers.

3 Comments

    In June 1967, I graduated from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School and entered Western Michigan University as a pre-engineering student. I wanted to be an architect, so my sights were set very high to move on as soon as I could. Two major things happened. I got into WMU’s Automotive Engineering program and in Junior year I was accepted into into the WMU co-op program. Wonderful!; but NOT SO FAST!!

    My home town tie-in was Saginaw Steering Gear Division (now Xsteer)of General Motors Corporation. SSG had no program relationship with WMU; and WMU only worked with vehicle manufacturers. There was zero interest in having an automotive stent connected with a simple “auto parts” organization.

    A compromise was reached. I was the first experiment. I started on the factory floor, then multiple 8 week assignments in tooling, process, industrial, and product engineering assignments.

    In December 1971, I graduated from WMU with a job as a Product Engineer for General Motors! Pay was $1,027.45 per month and I had NO DEBT! My fellow grads were getting $925.00 to $950.00a month at Ford and Chrysler.

    I left GM and Saginaw in 1975. I enjoyed engineering careers at American Seating Company and SUSPA, Inc. I stayed connected to the auto industry, be i was more attracted to commercial seating and swivel chairs. SUSPA had invented the first self-supporting pneumatic height adjustment a few years earlier and I helped introduce it to North America during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

    In 2003, I formed my own consulting business where I remain focused on the office, education, healthcare, and hospitality furniture industries. I love what I do and I am eternally grateful for my co-op working / learning experience.

    There is a new successor program at WMU. The School of Product Design & Innovation, combining The Arts, Engineering, and Business Schools has opened this month with 22 students.

    History CAN repeat itself!

    Robbie, thanks for sharing your experiences! As a student who is passionate about product innovation, this is a great read. I loved reading about your wide range of projects at DISHER, both technical and broadening. Keep up the good work!

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