Ellen Fletcher Benedict is director of strategy and business programs, Global Oncology Care for Philips Healthcare. After completing her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at UD, Benedict earned her master of science in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Her 20 year career in the medical device industry includes roles in development and clinical research engineering, product management and strategic marketing. Benedict has been involved in developing cardiac assist devices, cardiovascular ultrasound systems, a spectroscopic system for the detection of cancer and surgical endoscopy systems.
COE: How has your UD experience and education helped to shape your career?
Ellen: I developed fundamental skills that have served me well in both technical and business-oriented roles. It also provided the opportunity to explore a new discipline of engineering that became the foundation for my career. Mechanical engineering fostered an interest in biomedical engineering, which led me to pursue a master of science at RPI and a career in the medical device industry. As I transitioned from engineering roles in product development and clinical research to business roles in strategic marketing and business development, it required an analytical approach to problem-solving, understanding complex new technologies and the ability to work collaboratively with engineering professionals on multidisciplinary teams.
COE: What do you remember most about your undergraduate experience? Were there any specific people of influence from your college days?
Ellen: I especially remember four professors who guided and mentored me at UD. Dr. Jack Vinson provided encouragement and support as my faculty advisor, Dr. Herb Kingsbury provided opportunities that developed my interest in biomedical applications, including an orthopedic biomechanics course he team taught with an orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Tsu Wei Chou and Dr. Wally Walters were great teachers who laid the foundation for a stimulating and enjoyable educational experience.
COE: What do you think can be done to increase opportunities for women to pursue engineering degrees and what opportunities exist for professional women engineers?
Ellen: We need to expose young women, as well as young men, to engineering at an early age. In my town of Andover, Massachusetts, public school curriculum includes a hands-on engineering class for all three years of middle school. I've had the opportunity to work with students on the design and construction of a prosthetic arm and it was great to see girls as engaged as boys.
It's important for young men and women to view engineering as a "gender neutral" profession. In an era when women engineering students were still something of a novelty, I always felt accepted as an equal to male engineering students and faculty. I had the confidence to take a position in an industrial research and development organization when I graduated, and also to pursue a graduate degree in my engineering field of interest.
Finally, it's important for women to see female role models in industry. At Philips, I've known women who advanced through research and engineering functions to positions of vice president and general manager of business units and research laboratories.