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Alumna Spotlight: Meagan Harrison

Maegan Harrison graduated from the PSE/CHE dual degree program in December 2020 and began working at James Hardie.  We got a chance to speak with Maegan at the James Hardie professional development event in March – Read about how that event went here.

Maegan’s outstanding insight into her transition from college to work life is a great guide for upcoming graduates. Below are some of the learning experiences from Maegan’s first year in the working world.

How did you realize you needed to set boundaries? How have they helped you, and how have they changed as you have moved through the company?

I realized that I needed to set boundaries within a few weeks of orientation. I was staying until 4 p.m. [which is considered overtime for Maegan’s schedule], not because I had anything to do or someone told me to, but because I felt an inner pressure to stay as long as everyone else. I felt guilty leaving when others were still working. It took me awhile to realize that everyone who was staying late was part of management and that it was unreasonable to expect myself to hold the same hours as them. One day, I started to leave around 2:30 p.m. instead. I felt so guilty, but to my great surprise no one cared. No one cared that I left at 2:30 p.m. because no one had expected me to stay late except for myself. 

Since then, I’ve been lucky to have mentors who know me and look out for my well-being in that way, but it was an important lesson to learn that I was in charge of my own boundaries. My boundaries have mostly changed when presented with new opportunities. Over the past few months, I have been very flexible with my schedule -working longer hours, sometimes working nights, and moving on and off of shifts. It’s been hectic for sure and is definitely out of step for what many people’s boundaries might be, but I was okay with it because I saw value in the experience and opportunities it provided.

I know that I’m very young to be promoted to a department manager, especially at a new plant. I want to put in the work now so that I am successful and good at what I do despite my age and lack of tenured experience. I know that my boundaries will continue to change as my life does and that’s okay. That being said, I try to stay very in tune with myself, and if I start to feel burned out, I speak up. Sometimes it has been met with resistance, but I have never regretted doing so. It can be scary to self-advocate but being burnt out ultimately doesn’t help yourself or the company.

How do you make the gym a priority?

Exercising has been part of my life for a very long time, and I know from personal experience that it is incredibly important to my well-being. During college, I always woke up early and worked out before my classes but I wasn’t about to wake up earlier than I already did to get to work at 5 a.m. Working out in the afternoons was a hard switch for me because I was tired and had zero motivation after work, but the fact that my gym was directly on my way home from work helped a lot. 

I also have to sign up in advance for classes, which provides accountability. If you are someone who wants to work out regularly but struggles to do so due to lack of motivation, I would highly suggest finding a means of accountability whether that be a friend to work out with, classes that you sign up for, or literally having to drive past your gym on the way home from work! After moving into leadership and working longer days, going to the gym regularly definitely became harder. However, my manager was aware of how I prioritized exercise and made it possible for me to leave a tad early a few days a week to work out. 

Now that I am on 12-hour shifts, working 4 on – 4 off, I only exercise on my days off. Being able to exercise and work in manufacturing is absolutely possible; sometimes you just have to be flexible with your timing and let others know that it is a priority of yours. It’s definitely a conversation that I plan to have with my manager in Massachusetts, at the new James Hardie mill. I know that being part of a start-up will require a lot of long hours, but I also know that I perform much better when I have a chance to exercise at least a few days a week.

 What would you say to your senior year self looking back now?

Interviewing for full-time positions can be extremely stressful. However, try not to worry going into the interview, be yourself, do your best, and trust that things will fall into place. I would also tell myself to really cherish my time at State and in PSE – even when sitting for 10 hours in the same classroom or having 5-hour labs seems like the worst thing ever. Looking back, I have a lot of fond memories with my classmates during those times. Even though you will likely remain in contact with many of your college friends after graduation, it may be the last time you see them on a regular basis. My college friends are now spread out across the US, and while we still keep in touch, it’s definitely not the same as being with them. Lastly, I would tell myself not to worry about entering a full-time position and if I would be good enough at my job. A PSE degree really does prepare you not just for working in a paper mill, but for manufacturing in general. If you’ve made it this far, you are perfectly capable of whatever job you’ll be moving into!