200 WITS Conference Attendees Hear From 1992 Gaffney High Graduate

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 8:45am

Michelin Americas ergonomics director Dr. Bobbie Watts is in the business of studying people in their work environment and human factors which impact performance.

It’s an unlikely career path for Watts, who discovered ergonomics by accident when the Gaffney native switched from a Civil to Industrial Engineering major at Clemson University. She has spent more than 20 years working as a corporate human factors engineer for UPS, consultant for American Express, and the Corporate Ergonomics Manager for Coca-Cola Refreshments.

“When I changed to Industrial Engineering, one of the first required courses I took was a class in Human Factors,” Watts said. “I fell in love with ergonomics and how the study of people in their working environment could be used to develop processes and products to help people do things more efficiently.”

Nearly 200 North and South Carolina high school students got to learn more about Watts when the 1992 Gaffney High graduate was the guest speaker March 14-15 for Limestone College’s seventh annual Women in Technology & Sciences (WITS) Conference.

“When I was growing up, my mom was always fixing something at home so I guess I came by my interest in engineering and solving problems naturally,” Watts said. “I took a Calculus class at Gaffney High and really loved it. To me, it was like a putting together a puzzle. I think it’s important for young women to find their own passion in life.”

At Limestone, Watts took vacation days from Michelin so she could speak with young women from Gaffney, Blacksburg, Shelby, Broome, Spartanburg High Schools, along with High Point Academy Charter School.

The high school students participated in workshops and lab activities mentored by Limestone College faculty members in a diverse range of topics such as aerospace, cryptography, psychology, sports medicine, and environmental science.

Watts has seen how her industrial engineering work with disciplines like packaging science in design work can make it easier for people to open products such as soup cans and soft drink bottles. Watts said she believes programs such as Limestone’s WITS conference are vital in order to recruit the next generation of women into math-, technology-, and science-related careers for future economic growth.

The WITS Conference at Limestone has received financial support from both Duke Energy and Broad River Electric Cooperative. Duke Energy provided a $50,000 grant for high-tech mobile science lab equipment. Broad River Electric provides funds from its Operation Round Up program where the monthly balances of participating members are rounded up to the nearest dollar.

“Limestone is well-suited to once again offer a conference such as this because half of the faculty in science and health-related disciplines at Limestone are women with terminal degrees,” said WITS Program Director Dr. Michelle Phillips-Meek, who is an assistant professor of Psychology at Limestone.

(Article by Scott Powell, The Gaffney Ledger, March 20, 2019. Accompanying photo by Limestone College Department of Communications & Marketing.)