For many, graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan meant they would be designing and building cars in Detroit. But not Julia Abate. She did not want to design cars, but instead, she wanted to design for people. So after taking an eye-opening ergonomics course, she took her desire to make people’s lives better to the field of ergonomics.
As a testament to how versatile ergonomics is, Abate has worked in a variety of industries including automotive, aerospace, energy, healthcare, transportation, food processing, paper, foundries, textiles, food service, retail, software and electronics. She started her journey at Prince, a private automotive interior supplier which was purchased by Johnson Controls (JCI). She recalls, “The ergonomics team members, company culture, and my experience with the ergonomics program at JCI set a strong foundation for the rest of my career.” She then joined Sandalwood Engineering and Ergonomics, where she ended up leading the ergonomics team of consultants and worked mainly with the corporate ergonomists at Ford Motor Company.
Her first round with the Ergonomics Center of North Carolina (the Center) came after Sandalwood. “I worked with clients like GE, Starbucks, and many others,” Abate said. Most recently, Abate took a break from travel and consulting to spend nearly ten years at the SAS Institute. There she was able to work more extensively with the Applied Ergonomics Conference community and currently serves as one of the Conference Chairs. She is also on the board of the Applied Ergonomics Society and the advisory panel for the IISE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors journal.
In addition to delivering training courses to industry, Abate was an adjunct instructor in both mathematics and ergonomics for some time. “I love to teach,” she said, “I welcome the opportunity to expose more of the next generation to ergonomic principles and applications in the workforce.”
Abate made her return to the Center in February and worked with the former executive director, Tim McGlothlin, right up to his retirement in March. She chose to return because she has known the staff for years, and the prospect of working with them to grow the Center was too good to pass up. “They are a great group of dedicated professionals, and I am excited about the opportunities ahead of us,” shared Abate.
Her vision for the Center is clear. As a team, they have developed a strategy of growth that starts by refreshing the clarity of their vision, image and branding. Next, they will work to strengthen the relationship with ISE and other departments at NC State and use their client relationships to generate more joint opportunities for applied research projects. “The tie to the University and the ISE department allows us to help bridge the gap between research and industry,” shared Abate. “One of my ultimate goals is to create a program that supports smaller businesses while at the same time offering real-world project opportunities for students to gain some hands-on experience in applied ergonomics.”