Fern Yoon had just decided to study engineering in college when a friend challenged her.
"My friend said, ’You’re going into engineering? You’re a girl. You’re not going to succeed.’”
“I’m very competitive,” Fern said. “My response was, ‘Watch me.’”
More than 15 years later – now the leader of our automotive systems engineering and marketing team – Fern is still one to watch. Her competitive spirit drives her to inspire change, close the gender gap in engineering and help our automotive customers stay ahead of what’s next for vehicle electrification.
“I’m constantly asking questions and looking for answers, challenging myself about how to make things better,” she said. “I’m also looking for what I enjoy and to continuously learn and build on my experience. I encourage the women I mentor to do the same. Never fear working toward your passion.”
Scaling her passion
Fern’s passion for electrical engineering stemmed from wanting to learn the science behind how new innovations are developed. Before joining TI and developing technology that helps improve automotive battery management and electric vehicle drive range, she was problem-solving for a different kind of system: human immunity and the role of engineering in cancer prevention.
While working on her Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Fern was part of the Eugene McDermott Scholars program at The University of Texas at Dallas. The program was endowed by Margaret McDermott in honor of her late husband, Eugene McDermott, co-founder of Texas Instruments and UT Dallas. It represents his vision of a great university that attracts the world’s best and brightest minds to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The scholars program helped prepare Fern to pursue her master’s degree. In a UT Dallas cleanroom – an enclosed, controlled environment where semiconductors are manufactured – Fern toiled away at her master’s thesis project to determine whether semiconductor devices could be used to detect cancer early. Her thesis proved that it was possible.
So when a wafer fabrication process engineer from our company approached Fern at a Society of Women Engineers conference about jobs at TI, she was already intrigued with the semiconductor manufacturing process.
“It was a good transition of my experience,” she said. “I was interested in how semiconductors were made on a larger scale.”
She joined our company as a manufacturing process engineer and then transitioned into applications engineering, where she participated in a year-long rotation program, which exposed her to different roles, gave her a broad view of the business, and allowed her time and space to pursue her interests. She built teams and processes as a marketing manager in our automotive systems engineering and marketing team, then branched out as a product line manager. Fundamentally understanding the processes and challenges of manufacturing a wafer has given her a better picture about how to optimize system-level solutions for automotive customers.
“The technology that we’re developing within our battery management portfolio has improved our voltage and current sensing accuracy by 10 times, and that allows our customers to extend battery range by 20% or reduce the size of the battery to make EVs more affordable,” she said. “It’s really fulfilling to help our customers translate the technology investments we’re making into ways they can further optimize and improve their products.”
Shaping the future
In addition to her role as a business leader, Fern is a champion of diversity. As a student, she had been surprised by the gender ratio of engineering students, which skewed heavily toward men. Today, she invests much of her time away from work in initiatives to close the STEM gender gap. She sits on the board of High-Tech High Heels, a non-profit organization focused on keeping more girls in STEM, and supports a program for teachers that raises awareness about implicit bias in classrooms. Boys are more likely to be called upon to answer questions first, she said, which can feed perceptions that they are better at STEM.
“Boys and girls may learn differently,” she said. “If we have that awareness and teach to that, we may be able to change perceptions. Studies have shown that when female students have confidence, they’re more likely to pursue STEM in higher education.”
She also led a group of TI women engineers every year in conjunction with Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (part of Engineering Week) in partnership with the Galerstein Gender Center at The University of Texas at Dallas, where she introduced students to engineering. The work is rewarding, but also vital for women, who can face roadblocks in STEM education and doubts about their career paths.
“Having women leaders is important so other females see that there is an opportunity to continue to grow in their careers,” she said. “I love STEM and engineering. But growing up, the stereotype was that people in STEM only wrote code and sat in front of computers. I only learned about the broader opportunities for engineers after I started working at TI. Engineers work in sales, communications and design. There’s so much more.”
A mentor for other women
Today, Fern enjoys sharing career advice and leadership lessons with her colleagues as an active member of our company’s Women’s Employee Network.
She helps women – students, recent graduates and experienced professionals – see the career growth opportunities STEM has to offer. She urges them to talk to other women – and men – who have successful STEM careers and not to fear working toward their passion.
“Find something that you think sounds exciting and interesting and give it a shot,” she said. “And if you don’t like it, that’s OK. Try something else. Finding out what you don’t like brings you a step closer to finding what you do like.”