Kristin Gottron '15 C.S.M.A.

Trucks, Trailers and Industry - A Surprising Mission Field

Kristin Gottron ’15 found a remarkable way to combine her two loves, engineering and theology, into one career.

Kristin Gottron ’15 C.S.M.A. nearly gave up engineering for theology. As an industrial engineering major at the University of Pittsburgh, she said she was “captivated by the study of theology,” and was trying to discern whether it would be a better fit.

To help her decide, she spent spring 2010 in Rome on St. Thomas’ Bernardi Campus as part of the Catholic Studies Rome program. Alongside St. Thomas students at the Angelicum, she studied art history, Italian, bioethics, poetry, theology and Latin.

“I was really attracted to the interdisciplinary aspect of the program,” she said. Her interest piqued, Gottron began to consider how she could continue to blend areas of study and serve the Catholic Church as an engineer. Pursuing a Catholic Studies Master of Arts then became a natural progression.

Sitting in Dr. Mike Naughton’s Catholic Social Thought class, Gottron learned just how she could apply church teaching to engineering – and that reoriented her to her own vocation.

Naughton recalled Gottron’s transformation: “She discovered in the [Catholic] Church’s social teaching concepts such as subsidiarity, solidarity, the logic of the gift and the subjective dimension of work – all of which had relevance to the work of the engineer.”

Gottron agreed. “Prior to that course, it was much harder for me to picture engineering as a place where my interest in theology can be applied,” she said. “That course taught me how to see engineering as ‘mission territory’ of its own where Catholic teaching on the human person definitely can and should come into play. It helped me to understand ... the areas where engineering could fall into error in dealing with the totality of the human person. In a way, it turned my ‘either/or’ way of thinking regarding theology and engineering into a ‘both/and,’ and inspired me to see what I could do to take what I learned in Catholic studies into the world as an engineer.”

Her master’s essay, “Designing Work for Integral Human Development: An Application of Catholic Social Thought to Scientific Management,” is an examination of the complex history that resulted in the loss of the craft system. Increasing emphasis on efficiency led – perhaps unintentionally – to the dehumanization of work and the worker. Catholic social teaching has a deep interest in correcting this error and Gottron applied Catholic Church teaching to answer the question, “what would ‘good work’ look like on an assembly line?”

It’s a question she asks every day now.

Gottron works in the linehaul engineering department at the corporate headquarters of FedEx Ground in Pittsburgh.

“I explained [my work] to my sister once, and she boiled it down to, ‘So, you think about trucks all day?’ I hope it is more involved than that!”

Indeed, it is. As Gottron described it, industrial engineers do not necessarily “make” something like a mechanical engineer would; instead, they focus on the productivity of a process.

“The question on the mind of an industrial engineer is, ‘Can we make the process quicker and less expensive?’ This makes industrial engineers a particularly good fit for FedEx Ground, because FedEx’s focus is to deliver packages quickly and cost effectively,” Gottron said.

Her department supports linehaul operations, the part of FedEx that handles semitractor-trailer moves. This is a high-cost part of the operation because these moves are often long range and package heavy. Gottron’s job is to identify ways to streamline cost while still meeting package deadlines. For Gottron, the implications for the application of Catholic social teaching are obvious.

“Humans are not automatons,” she emphasized, so the question becomes “how can we make sure that we are keeping the person in mind, not simply efficiency?”

Gottron credits her Catholic studies education and its blend of subjects (particularly Latin) as helping her to see meaning in systems, which is invaluable to her career.

“My team often uses my abilities to set up reporting that makes decision-making in the field easier,” Gottron said. “I think that Catholic studies did a lot to foster my ability to connect truths, so I think that has played a role in my ability to see the big picture.”