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Our Jobs, Ourselves: For Bianca McCartt, Diverse Experiences Make Everything Possible

March 04, 2024 | by Dianna Delling

When Bianca McCartt returned to a design engineer role as a Combustion Diffuser Nozzle (CDN) Structures engineer at GE Aerospace in 2016, she knew she’d face some skepticism going back into a technical engineering position. McCartt had been working on the company’s Evendale campus since 2004. She’d designed and analyzed turbine airfoils, combustion components, and rotating parts, and she already had a patent in thermal inspection systems.

But when she left hands-on mechanical engineering to lead professional development programs for the GE Aerospace Engineering Division in 2013, she broke what many engineers consider a cardinal rule: Never stray too far from the technical side.

“I was told early in my career that if you leave engineering, you can never come back,” McCartt says. “But I find technical work just as much fun and energizing as doing the programming and strategic work, and I think there’s room to do both.”

Bianca McCartt. Top: Bianca and her husband, Shawn, with Mo, their horse. All images courtesy of Bianca McCartt.

McCartt proved her point on the CDN team, where she designed a first-of-its-kind acoustic dampening component for the LM9000 aeroderivative gas turbine. And today, as a talent pipeline development leader in the Chief Engineer’s Office and leader of the new Take2Flight program, she’s sharing what she’s learned about career changes.

Take2Flight helps experienced engineers relaunch their technical careers after they’ve taken time away by choice or by necessity. Developed through the STEM Re-Entry Task Force in partnership with iRelaunch and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) — a group that has been instrumental to McCartt’s work and life — the initiative offers participants 12 weeks of assistance with corporate reentry. “We’ll provide them with a softer landing by reintroducing them to our culture, technology, and tools that will help them be successful,” she says. “We know they don’t need a whole year of this support. They just need a little bit of help at the start.”

The first cohort of two to six Take2Flight engineers will start work in late March, and if all goes well, the program will expand to other locations. Take2Flight is open to everyone, but midcareer re-launchers are most often women, returning after time off to raise children or care for other family members.

“Traditionally, these folks have had a harder time getting rehired because of gaps on their résumé,” says McCartt. “We can recognize that their qualifications and skills don’t disappear just because they were doing something different for a while.”

A Productive Career

McCartt grew up on a horse farm near Lexington, Kentucky, where her parents raised Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and American Saddlebreds. She rode competitively and by age 11 was teaching riding lessons. At school, she excelled in STEM, English, and art. Still, since no one in her family had gone to college, she assumed her future would be in horse breeding. That changed after a college engineering professor visited her high school AP calculus class.

Bianca with a ceramic mug she threw on the pottery wheel.

“He said if you’re good at math and science, engineering is an option that offers a chance to innovate and invent and design new things,” she recalls. “And the jobs are mostly indoors, which I considered a bonus because I spent a lot of time cleaning stalls and moving frozen water buckets in the winter.”

McCartt enrolled in the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, where she discovered SWE before classes even began, at a summertime luncheon to welcome incoming engineering students. McCartt found herself seated at a table with the guest speaker, Joan Higginbotham, the trailblazing electrical engineer and NASA astronaut.

Higginbotham was the first of dozens of SWE engineers who have served as an inspiration for McCartt over the years. “Right from the start, I felt like I wasn’t alone, and I saw diversity around me,” she says. “I feel very lucky that I didn’t have to go looking very hard to find those role models — and I’d also say that’s been true during my journey at GE.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2003, McCartt completed GE’s Edison Engineering Development Program, rotating through positions in the gas turbine business. She focused exclusively on technical work for the first seven years of her career, designing and analyzing hot section components.

Since then, she’s held a mix of full-time technical and program manager positions at GE Aerospace. As much as she loves the science, she says she finds fulfillment in helping others advance professionally and excel in their careers. She also believes that new perspectives help people grow and businesses thrive.

“I have a great passion for supporting women in engineering, and anyone else whose voices have been underrepresented historically in terms of innovation and technology,” she says.


Paying It Forward

Throughout her career, McCartt has maintained her close ties with SWE. After three years on the SWE Senate, which consults on strategic planning for the 44,000-member global nonprofit, she was elected to its board of directors in July 2023.

FY24 SWE Board of Directors
The FY24 SWE Board of Directors during the August board installation. Bianca McCartt on the far right of the first row.

A leadership role at SWE is a big commitment on top of an already busy professional life, which includes volunteering as industry adviser for the national Women of Color in Engineering Collaborative. But for McCartt it’s a chance to pay it forward.

“SWE did a lot to support me during my career, and scholarships they offer were a big part of my becoming a woman in engineering,” she says. “I see it as a way to have an impact on something that has been so impactful to me.”

And it’s another way to help engineering become even more inclusive. “There’s so much that hasn’t been highlighted around the capabilities and perspectives that diversity brings,” she says. “You just don’t know what you’re missing until it comes along.”

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.