TV host alumna speaks about unconventional career paths

| Staff Reporter

Blowing up airplanes on television is not what Deanne Bell first envisioned for her career. But the Washington University alumna has never taken a conventional approach to engineering.

More than 100 students and community members attended her Friday-night lecture that marked the end of EnWeek, the annual weeklong event held to promote engineers on campus and beyond.

Bell, a 2002 graduate in mechanical engineering, spoke about how her career evolved from a childhood hobby of building to her present profession as an engineering TV personality.

“I want to answer the number one question I get asked: ‘How on earth did you get that job?’” Bell said.

Bell’s lecture stressed the importance of not being afraid to take an unconventional career path that might not be first associated with an engineering degree.

The EnWeek chair, sophomore Megan Tetlow, said Bell’s perspective was an important contribution to the week’s goal.

“[EnWeek is about] increasing the presence of the engineering school and [making] people more aware of how much engineers do contribute to society in general, and that was a lot of her lecture,” Tetlow said.

Bell noted in her lecture that while she has not necessarily followed a straightforward career track, she now has her “dream job.”

“My career journey has been very wild and crazy and zany. It’s important to find a job that you love,” she said. “For me, it’s been all about being my kind of engineer.”

Toward the end of her junior year at Washington University, Bell said she had started to doubt whether she had chosen the right major.

“On some level, I felt like I just didn’t fit…as far as the profession,” she said.

A couple of her professors, however, convinced Bell that her engineering degree could be used for more than research or manufacturing. And once she entered the professional world, Bell realized her dream job—to be an engineering TV-show host.

Her first break came when she auditioned for PBS’s “Design Squad,” an educational engineering program for teenagers. Bell got the job and co-hosted the show when it premiered in 2007.

From there, Bell went on to host “Money Hunters,” a home improvement show, and National Geographic’s “The Egyptian Job,” a two-hour special about the engineering challenges of breaking into a pyramid.

“They saw me on TV and they said they wanted to put me on TV more,” she said.

She also discussed her work on “Smash Lab,” a Discovery Channel series about the science behind destruction. As co-host of the series, Bell, along with her colleagues, would choose a crash, smash or explosion and engineer a way to make it safer.

Though it’s not a conventional use of an engineering degree, Bell has had the opportunity to pressurize and blow up an airplane, run trains into cars and smash cars into walls.

Bell encouraged engineering students to pursue their own ways of applying their degrees.

“Life isn’t always about achieving that [particular] goal—it’s about adapting,” she said. “You have to roll with the punches and roll with the opportunities that are given to you.”

Tetlow said that Bell connected well with students.

“She knows a lot of what we do here and she knows our school. She could really relate to us and the audience,” Tetlow said. “Basically [it was about] going after what you want to do and creating your own dream job.”

Bell’s lecture, part of the University’s Assembly Series, was co-sponsored by Engineers without Borders, EnCouncil, the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and the Woman’s Club of Washington University.

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