Solving complex problems is all in a day’s work for Sufana Kreber, a senior project engineering manager for Kerry North America. So is supporting women in her field, something that contributed to her earning a Manufacturing Institute STEP Ahead Award in 2022, which recognizes women leaders in the industry. To learn more about what project engineers do—and to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day on June 23—we sat down with Sufana and how she’s making an impact at Kerry.
Can you explain what you and other project engineering managers at Kerry do?
As project engineers, we are not necessarily in the forefront of making food and beverage ingredients and products, but we work behind the scenes to put in place the systems that make the product. We partner with our internal customers to design and implement processes that drive efficiency, safety and sustainability in manufacturing.
Our job is to look at things holistically. There are a lot of moving parts and I'm there to listen and understand all points of view and figure out the best way to get to the end goal. What does the design of the project look like? Does the site have the infrastructure we need? What does it look from operations and maintenances perspective? Are there any safety opportunities? And sustainability? It's being the champion and driver for things and making sure that you capture the multifunctional points of view.
How did you get decide to become an engineer?
To be honest, engineering wasn't my first choice. I wanted to be a pediatrician. But foremost for me was wanting to help people. After a couple of years of studying premed, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue that route, so I chose to change my major to chemical engineering. It was the perfect fit for my background as the field is more science-based engineering. I like building stuff and solving problems.
I've been out of college almost 15 years now, and most of my jobs have been in the food industry. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great companies, mostly as a project engineer. As an engineer, I think I do help people. Food is essential to our wellbeing—so, in a small way I'm helping to better nourish the world.
What was it like going into this field as a woman?
Statistically, females make up just 9% of the mechanical engineering workforce and 18% of chemical engineering, according to the Society of Women Engineers. When I graduated and started my job at a facility location, I was scared of what I was getting myself into because I was the only female engineer at the site. So, I am a big proponent of driving girls to get into these fields. I think it is important to show them there are people who look like them in the industry and that they, too, can be successful at it.
What advice would you have for other women who want to get into this field?
Be passionate about what you do. If you love what you do, everything comes more easily. But you're not going to know that right off the bat, so don't be afraid to try different things. Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. That will teach you what you are good at and what you're not good at.
Kerry is a company that allows you to explore and try something different, so don't keep it to yourself—you have to put yourself out there. Have a conversation with your boss or find a mentor you can have those conversations with. Somebody that will listen and be your advocate and help you.
What's a misconception that people might have about the work that you do?
When I got into engineering in the manufacturing industry, people took it as unglamorous work. But being an engineer is exciting. I get to learn different things and understand and appreciate how much work goes into making the food I consume. I’m in awe every single time in the technology and effort it takes to produce a product. I go to the grocery store and can say I work for a company that makes all these different products. It makes me proud.
"I am a big proponent of driving girls to get into these fields. I think it is important to show them there are people who look like them in the industry and that they, too, can be successful at it."
What are some of the coolest things you’ve gotten to do at Kerry so far?
I get excited about learning how things are made. I never knew what it took to make vinegar, and that was the first process I learned at Kerry. Also, I love coffee, and now I’m working in a plant that makes syrups and flavorings for coffee drinks. When I first visited the site, I was like a kid in a candy store—it smells delicious.
How does your work support Kerry’s commitment to sustainability?
I appreciate the fact that Kerry puts such a high value on sustainability. Every project—and I mean every project, small or large—has a sustainability at its core. We are continuously trying to figure out better processes. And when hiring outside engineering or construction firms, we’re looking for companies that understand our sustainability goals.
Sometimes people don't know how they contribute to the overall picture, so we talk with different teams and help them understand how they fit in. For example, our facilities use a lot of steam and water in our process, so something as small as the maintenance team fixing a leak is extremely important! We all must do our part, small or big, to drive our sustainability goals.
What are some things your Kerry colleagues might be surprised to learn about you?
I am originally from Bangladesh. My family and I moved to U.S. when I was 10 years old, and I am bilingual. While living in Bangladesh, I took classical dance lessons for six years and was featured in several talent shows on TV. These days, I love to cook and am obsessed with cooking shows. I would love to compete in Food Network's "Chopped" for amateurs. I am married with two adorable dogs—an aussidoodle name Lucky a newer to the family goldendoodle name Luna.