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Born to Lead 

When she was only five years old, Breanna Cornell was already dreaming of becoming a veterinarian. By age 12, her parents were fulfilling another dream of their daughter’s by sending her to space camp in Alabama. 

Cornell grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After a high school visit to Michigan Technological University, the young woman’s interests turned to wildlife biology and environmental engineering. 

It appeared to be in the cards early on for Cornell, now 25, to pursue a science-related career when she grew up. 

In 2014, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Michigan Tech. 

“My parents have always fostered and facilitated support for my interest in science,” she explained. “I have always been passionate about making a positive impact on the world, especially related to the environment.” 

Today, those early passions and the mature career they led to are being recognized by The Manufacturing Institute with its Manufacturing Institute and STEP Ahead Emerging Leader Award, given to Cornell in early March.                                                                                                             The STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Ahead Awards honor women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their careers and represent all levels of the manufacturing industry, from the factory floor to the offices of senior management. 

“I wanted to help the world in any way that I could,” said Cornell, who is a process engineer at Essity (formerly SCA), a leading global hygiene and health organization with an emphasis on sustainability.  

The company develops, produces and sells personal care, consumer tissue and professional hygiene products and solutions. 

Cornell works on the Napkin Resource Support Team at the company’s facility in Bellemont, located about 11 miles west of Flagstaff on West Old Highway 66. 

The Bellemont facility, in operation since 2001, converts paper into finished products such as the Tork brand of napkins, tissue and towel for the away-from-home business.  

“Essity encourages women to excel here by placing them in leadership roles and promoting a positive image around the importance of the hygiene products we make,” Cornell said.  

She is one of 130 women to receive the award this year.

“I am very honored,” Cornell said. “I believe it is important to recognize women who are excelling in industry and other fields because we are still the minority in the STEM fields. I can’t speak for all women, but as a woman in manufacturing, I feel that I bring a different set of communication skills that enhance my ability to bring solutions to the floor with collaboration from Essity’s upper management, maintenance and operators. Having women in the workforce also introduces diversity of thought, which leads to better problem solving when we work with people who are different from ourselves.” 

While attending a career fair at her university, Cornell was recruited by Essity.   

“It meant a lot to me that a company with such great concern for our environment would want me to join their team and would help me grow in my career,” she reflected.  

Upon graduation, Cornell was accepted into Essity’s Graduate Onboarding (GO!) Engineer program, which is an 18-month-long rotational employment opportunity where candidates experience several sides of the business. 

Essity Southwest Operations Human Resources Manager Amy Davis nominated Cornell for the Emerging Leader Award. 

“Breanna is very goal-oriented and has a strong commitment to achieving whatever she sets her mind to, at work and in her personal life,” Davis said. “I often wish I had some of her energy, as somehow she finds the motivation to catch up with her friends and go for a daily run after putting in a long work day.” 

She said that Cornell’s leadership and desire to drive continuous improvement efforts in her current role as process engineer, and previously as a GO! Engineer, has positively impacted the Essity organization.  

“She recognizes the unique skill set that each operator has to offer, and she takes the time to really listen to their needs, while at the same time building strong relationships,” Davis added. 

Cornell was “instrumental in creating a pilot training program for the Napkin group, and is now leading the way for the other converting team member training platform,” Davis said. 

The Manufacturing Institute (the Institute) is a non-partisan organization and an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers. It delivers leading-edge information and service to the nation’s manufacturers. 

According to a recent Institute press release, women constitute one of manufacturing’s largest pools of untapped talent. Women totaled about 47 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2016, but only 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce. 

The Institute will recognize recipients of the STEP Ahead Awards this month at a reception in Washington, D.C. 

“Companies across the U.S. agree there is a talent shortage in manufacturing,” said The Manufacturing Institute Executive Director Carolyn Lee. “Through the STEP Ahead Awards, we hope to take another step toward closing this gap by highlighting the stories of successful women in manufacturing and giving them a platform to encourage other women to join the industry and be role models for the next generation.” 

Lee said that the women being honored demonstrate what modern manufacturing careers are all about, including making an impact in their communities with meaningful careers that offer significant opportunities for growth. 

Cornell believes the world of engineering is a wonderful one for modern women. 

“I do not believe it is as challenging of a career for women to enter as it was in the past,” she noted. “There’s a lot of diversity in the type of work that you can do with an engineering degree; particularly in manufacturing, because manufacturing, whether you’re aware of it or not, touches almost every part of everyone’s life and our impact on the environment and the world.”  

Cornell has some advice for women who are deciding to go into the manufacturing industry: “Stay passionate! Like in any job, there will be trials and tribulations; but, holding onto your passion or your ‘why’ behind entering the industry will drive you to find opportunities that may have been missed by others.” FBN 

 By Betsey Bruner, FBN  

Breanna Cornell 

Courtesy photo 

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