• GEARE Executive Board

Alumni Spotlight #6 - Heather Macdonald

GEARE graduate Heather Macdonald reflects on her experience in the GEARE program in Germany. While at Purdue, she majored in Materials Engineering and was a member of the 2016 cohort. She was also a panelist on the GEARE Alumni Panel held today, November 10, 2020.



Heather is currently working for Daimler Trucks North America under Daimler AG. She works specifically in the Detroit Diesel subsidiary which specializes in heavy duty and medium duty diesel power trains. Her main position is as a Component Engineer for the front-end and cold side components, responsible for validation, test plans and release for new projects. She also holds a secondary position as a lead of BHAG 0 Launch Issues, dealing with tryout build and customer vehicle issue resolutions for new projects to launch. She also acts as Engineering Platform Manager for the Full Range Misfire platform and FE1 Evobus project. In the past, she has worked at MBUSI in process engineering, Body-in-White engineering and joining technologies. During her full time role, she also did a couple months stint in Portland Oregon working as a vehicle test engineer for durability vehicles. She is also currently working towards an MBA and an MSBA (Masters of Science in Business Analytics).


What did you learn from GEARE? The most beneficial aspect of the program I learned was the appreciation of how to work with other cultures. Almost all businesses nowadays have international relations, so it’s very important to be able to make new relationships with coworkers of different backgrounds. With both the co-op and the study abroad, I was well poised with in-depth information about Daimler as well as working with the German culture. It has helped me to create new relationships faster as well has given me a good base for understanding the German language. It is very helpful, as there are colleagues with not strong English, as well all our official documents are bilingual. And that’s just to start; what can be learned from the program is unique and immeasurable.


What would you do differently if you went through the program again?

I had the opportunity to continue my experience further in working in the joining technology department. It was my last term before the study abroad in Sindelfingen, and I had an offer to go back. It would have delayed my studies a little further, but the knowledge and cementing of language is always something I’ve regretted.


What advice would you give to current students?

Approach all experiences in the program with an open mind. It is designed to push you out of your comfort zone, and there is where you will experience the most growth. In international exchanges, look to strengthen not just local, but also global cohort bonds with other people and students. There is hardly any other place in your life that gives you the resources, time and shared experiences to create connections like these. I had truly a unique experience in branching out on my own, such as joining local interns Stammtisch, speaking only in German.


What skills did GEARE help you develop that you find useful in your professional career?

Perseverance, curiosity, team-building, cultural acceptance, foreign language utilization and learning, independence, and confidence.


What is your fondest memory from your time abroad?

Oh it’s hard to pick just one! What I’m most proud of is so slight, but I distinctly remember having to go to the school administrative offices at the end, and when speaking in German I had to be asked where I came from. I was, and still am so proud, because throughout the experience I had instructed mentors and friends to only speak to me in German. It was extremely tough and exhausting. From being extremely silent in groups at the beginning, to this conversation, it just showed the immense progress immersion gave me with the language and culture.


Do you have any interesting or funny stories to share about your travel experiences?

  • In Germany, specifically Stuttgart, there is a period in the morning where there is no public transportation. I was out late during a Stammtisch and before we knew it, it was that time! Let’s just say it was a very long walk back to the apartment, but a learning moment for sure. One was a difference in translation. There is a slight difference between Schlüssel (key) and Schüssel (bowl). I was baking with a friend and I asked for a Schlüssel. I was confused when he started laughing out loud and told me I asked him for a key instead of a bowl.

  • An interesting one is my final presentation in my international internship/last co-op session. Since I had spent the whole time talking to them in German, I had to do my final presentation twice; once in German and once in English. It was very difficult for a technical presentation, but very rewarding. Many more: - had a Klappfahrrad (folding bicycle) that was stamped to be produced in East Germany.

  • I saw the Tarzan musical in German. Very interesting to hear songs I’ve heard my whole life in a different language!

  • I went into the underground bunker in Stuttgart right under Marktplatz. It’s only open to public once a year during Lange Nacht der Museen or Long Museum Night in March. It was a bunker hotel that was completed June 1941 due to World War 2.

  • Lastly, participating in the Frühlingsfest and Faschings celebrations.


What local food do you miss the most?

Lentils and Spätzle with a couple of Saiten sausages on top (Swabian Food)

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