“I have experience in engineering production and manufacturing, with an emphasis on prototyping and assembly. My technical experience combined with my creative and liberal arts background allows me to think outside the box when problem solving, communicating effectively, and managing personnel.”
Started at SIGMADESIGN in 2013
What was your youth like?
I was born and raised in the Washington D.C. area, so I grew up as an “east-coaster”. We never moved around during my childhood. In fact, my parents still live in the same house. I am an only child, and I always got along well with my parents. My parents were (and still are) really into art, so our house was full of art. My nanny took me to the DC mall and to galleries and museums at least once a week; I soaked up culture like a sponge as a kid.
I attended private school from Preschool to 8th grade, and as soon as I could, I moved to public school. I attended Mt. Vernon high school, which is located two miles from Mount Vernon (George Washington’s estate). The school offered a full international baccalaureate program, in which I participated. My high school thesis investigated what the US response should be to 9/11.
I really liked art and drawing and took a lot of art classes in school. I was never a huge fan of computers, so even though I grew up at a time when personal computers were becoming more common, I spent more time outside playing and drawing. I’m also not a huge fan of sports, but I was on the track team in high school as a sprinter. One of our training runs was the “Mt. Vernon Run” where we had to run to and from the plantation.
Alexia and Douglas around age 16. (For those who don’t know, Douglas Burnette is SIGMADESIGN’s Test Lab Manager and Alexia’s husband).
After high school I was ready to get out of D.C., and so I headed for Emory University in Atlanta, GA known as the “The Ivy League of the South”. Emory is an interesting school, and has the largest university art collection in the country, not in terms of square footage, but in terms of collection. I obtained my Bachelors of Art with a major in Art History and a minor in French.
After college I worked my way around the country and then decided on grad school at the University of Texas in Austin. I obtained a Masters in Art with a focus on late Medieval and early Renaissance printmaking. This was a transitional period of printmaking between Illuminated Manuscripts and printed books. The term Incunabula refers to books printed before 1501. The way in which modern typefaces were invented and the way in which people were figuring out what a book would look like intrigued me. I believe that the codex is mankind’s greatest invention. I contemplated getting my PhD. but left learning institutions behind in 2010, and moved to Portland
My Path to Lab Management
I started at SIGMADESIGN in 2013 as a temporary employee working on a large quantity manufacturing order. One of the things I brought to my role as a technician was my visual acuity. Thinking about art history and thinking in a visual manner was what I was doing day-to-day as a technician. I was looking at 3D CAD, analyzing what went where, and putting it together. To me, it seemed like doing puzzles all day, which was amazing. And that visual acuity helped me translate what I was seeing on the screen to reality. Similar to art history, I was looking at things and figuring out how and why they fit together.
For Lab Management, I am required to think about a lot of things all at once and process them very quickly. I look at the big picture, think about all the inputs, and figure out the best path forward from that input data. This approach worked for me, and I filled a niche, so that’s how I ended up as a Lab Manager at SIGMADESIGN.
What do you enjoy most about your job and about working at SIGMADESIGN?
I really like the diversity of projects. Working at a company that makes a huge variety of products means there are new challenges every day. I enjoy helping figure out how to make us successful in that process.
People care about each other at SIGMADESIGN. It feels like it’s more of a family than it is a company, and I appreciate how many opportunities the company has afforded people who don’t necessarily have a “typical background”. In the Lab, we have employees with backgrounds in Finance, Business, Art History, and Wildlife Biology. It’s a diverse group of people with very unique skills. I appreciate that.
Core Values at SIGMADESIGN
I think all the core values are important, and they really do influence how we work. Adaptable is the one I reference almost daily because in the lab we have to be adaptable. Everything’s constantly changing, this ability to adapt is key to our success – that one is huge in how it influences how we work and how we do our jobs.
Also, anyone who knows me knows that Take Time To Laugh is an important one for me. Everyone can hear me laughing throughout the building… I try to tamp that down, but it doesn’t always work. It’s nice to not be 100% serious all the time.
What are your favorite project types?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, but we really do some cool stuff – building robots, cutting with lasers, there’s just so much. My focus right now is on trying to build up the cabling department. A team of cablers is my dream. I want our current, high-caliber team, but five times bigger, so that we could get cabling contracts with larger aerospace companies. That would be really cool. I’d also love to be involved in the arts again, so some kind of museum interactive displays or something would be great.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I have two main hobbies: letterpress, which goes back to my education, and vegetable gardening. Moveable type and wood engravings harken back to what I studied in school. If you think of Guttenberg and his original printing press, my version is 2500lbs of cast iron, built in 1913. It’s a Chandler & Price new style motorized letterpress which can print anything I want, as long as it is .918” high (that’s the height of a standard piece of type and has been since Guttenberg’s era).
When I first started at SIGMADESIGN, we were working on a lot of tooling for printers, so it was interesting to see how all of the modern printing terminology equated to the printing press. Those terms are all the same – they still do the same things, but function slightly differently. I also carve my own plates and blocks.
The vegetable gardening hobby blossomed when we bought our house. I never expected to get into gardening, but ended up with the perfect yard that has a sunny spot for raised garden beds. We’re not in the country with a lot of land, but I do manage to grow about 10% of my vegetable intake, and I enjoy that. I really appreciate eating the things I grow.