Shelby Duff


The Engineer | 30 Under 30 Class of 2019 

"I am constantly growing and learning as both an individual and a leader in this role."​

After completing two internships with General Motors, the company saw potential in Shelby and offered her a full-time job as an associate process engineer. In March 2018, she was promoted to group leader, overseeing the daily operations of a portion of the assembly line and championing change that increases quality and quantity while reducing cost and waste.


Shelby loves the fast-paced world of manufacturing, which allows her to grow and learn as a leader and individual. She is thankful to work for a company that has both a female CEO and CFO who serve as a constant reminder that if she continues to work hard and learn from every opportunity, she could be in their positions someday. She encourages women looking to succeed in engineering to seek out the support of other women. And if you don’t have a role model? Shelby says, “You are more than welcome to reach out to me!”


What exactly do you do as an associate process engineer?

Associate process engineer was the job title I was hired into at General Motors. My role was to assist the program ergonomists during pre-production operations to determine if the design engineers were implementing parts that could be installed by the operators safely and sufficiently. I did this by measuring the insertion forces of the parts and calculating the reach angles and clearance zones to minimize potential injuries such as sprains and strains. I was promoted to my current title of a group leader in March. My role is to oversee the daily operations of my portion of the assembly line and champion change that would safely increase quality and throughput while reducing cost and waste. I achieve this through managing a department of United Auto Workers Union employees comprised of six team leaders and 45 team members.

What does a regular day at work look like?

I work second shift; thus, a typical day begins at a 4:30 p.m. shift change meeting with my first shift counterpart. We review items that occurred during their shift to prepare my team for their day. The assembly line then begins promptly at 5:30 p.m. After that, the remainder of my shift involves managing and problem solving. I am currently in charge of what the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant refers to as door line and chassis 3. My door line teams build the doors for the Chevy Camaro, Cadillac ATS and Cadillac CTS. Then, my teams in chassis 3 install the doors back onto the body of the vehicle and perform fluid fill operations.

Why do you love what you do?

There are many reasons why I love what I do. The main reason is I love the fast pace world that is manufacturing. I am constantly growing and learning as both an individual and a leader in this role. Every day is different, and I need to be able to quickly adapt to meet the needs of the schedule. I also love working in manufacturing because I can see the positive impact (both qualitatively and quantitively) I have been making on my team.

How did you discover your passion for your job?

By accident, when I originally started at the University of Michigan, I was studying athletic training because I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. I explained to my dad how the whole time I was working with the Michigan football team I really needed an athletic trainer for myself as I was constantly lugging around 10-gallon jugs of Gatorade and it was beginning to take a toll on my back. My father, who also works at General Motors, mentioned that there was a person known as an ergonomist where he worked that did a very similar thing. She would go out and examine the jobs on the line to make sure that the operators were not lifting anything too heavy or reaching too far into a car that they could get a sprain or strain injury. I ended up doing two internships with the ergonomics department and thankfully they saw potential in me and offered me a full-time job as an associate process engineer in their group. I enjoyed being a part of the ergonomics department, but after working in an office environment for over a year, I began to miss the thrill of being out on a proverbial “football field.” That is when I truly found my passion for the manufacturing world.

How do you define success?

What success looks like to me is being able to go home at the end of the day and knowing that, no matter what had happened, I achieved what I intended to do.

What motivates you?

I am an extrovert by nature and have always been motivated through collaborating with a team to achieve goals. This was one of the reasons why in college I wanted to be on my collegiate chapter’s executive council. Now, in the workforce, I use this to ensure that the best solution to a problem is reached. I always go to the team first to see what suggestions they have. I then bring their ideas up to my direct supervisor to determine a compromise that will ensure everyone is satisfied with the results.


Where did you grow up?

I moved from Indiana to Tennessee to Canada and finally Michigan.


What is your theme song?

Woman by Ke$ha.


Where do you live now?

Lansing, Michigan


What are four things you can't live without?

Instagram, my Brita filter, Amazon Alexa and pizza.

When you were first interning for General Motors, did you know you would want to pursue a career there?

During my first internship, I knew I wanted to pursue a career at General Motors. I completed independent research involving the insertion force of electrical wire harness. I presented my research to various departments and gained insight to the various careers I could lead at General Motors. The next summer, I spent half of my internship in the Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant assisting the program ergonomist on the new launch. From there, I was introduced to a whole new side of the company, sparking my interest in working in manufacturing.

Were your dad and grandfather excited to hear you were going to work at General Motors since you’re a third-generation employee?

They were both thrilled to hear that I had accepted a job at General Motors. My family would have been happy for me no matter what career I chose to pursue but having worked in the company and knowing the direction Mary Barra has been directing the growth of General Motors, they both knew it would be an ideal place for me to start my career.

What does it mean to you to be one of the youngest supervisors to manage the Doorline?

It is an honor! It makes my heart happy that the company believes in me as a leader and it motivates me to continually do my best.

Did you every have difficulties with people respecting your authority because of your age?

Yes, but thankfully not too many times. Most of my team members are shocked when they find out that I am 24. The majority thought I was at least 28-32 based on how I carry myself.

In your application you said you are always figuring out what type of manager you want to become. What sort of manager would you like to be at this point in your life? What type of manager do you think you actually are?

When I began my new advisor training through Gamma Phi Beta, I read the 'Fast Company' article 6 Leadership Styles and When You Should Use Them. Right now, I would say my management style is that of an “affiliative leader.” When I started as a group leader, we had gone through industrial engineering changes to the jobs. Given my personality, being more of an empathetic or affiliative leader helped me build trust with the team. Now that I have gained their respect as a leader, I plan to maintain accountability and remain transparent with the team as we continue to head toward our common vision.

How have you tackled challenges with confidence to advance your career in a male-dominated field?

I am self-aware of what my strengths and weaknesses are in the work place. I know my confidence shines more thoroughly when I am presenting in front of a crowd or coaching a team member one-on-one. Thus, whenever I am faced with a challenge, I attempt to set myself up for success by ensuring I am in a comfortable environment and transparent. It is also easy to be confident because I love what I do, and I have put in my best effort every day.

I hear you run marathons. How do you find the time to train for and run marathons?

Now that I have switched over to second shift, it has made training more difficult. I do not get to see my family or friends as much on this schedule and I wanted to make sure I still make time for them. To accommodate this, I have switched from running five days a week to only three. The two days I used to run, I now do an hour of boxing class with my friends. It also helps that my next marathon I plan on running is more for fun and less for time. I don’t feel as stressed to stick to as rigorous of a training schedule as I did for my last one. A typical week would be rest day Monday, boxing on Tuesday, run for an hour at pace speed Wednesday and Thursday, boxing on Friday, rest day Saturday, then a long run two to three minutes slower than my goal pace time on Sunday (ideally 16-20 miles).

What is your favorite part about competing in marathons?​

My favorite part about competing in marathons is the support from the other runners. My third and most recent marathon I ran was the Vermont City Marathon in May. I was determined to break my personal record and finish around four hours and thirty minutes. I made the decision to run this marathon with a pace group, something I did not do in the last two. I was so happy I did! Within our group, I met four other fabulous human beings which I spent the whole first half talking to. It was amazing how much easier it felt to run with the distraction of a friendly conversation. At around mile seven, we ran by one of the women’s children and the other three of us yelled out to her girls “Your mom is so cool! Look how amazing she is doing!” Then, when I had to make a washroom stop after mile 13, I was motivated enough to keep running with them that I speed up until I caught back up with the group. The best part though was when we got to the mile 15 hill. We all knew that this mile-long hill that gradually increased up to 200 feet in elevation would be the hardest part of our run. As my group turned the corner to run up Pine Street, we all high fived each and yelled words of encouragement the entire way up the hill.

What advice do you have for sisters who want to pursue a career in engineering?

The best advice I have for sisters who want to pursue a career in engineering is if you ever feel discouraged, look toward the support of other women in your organization. Working for a Fortune 500 Company that has both a female CEO and CFO, I am constantly reminded that if I continue to work hard, and learn in every opportunity I am given, I could be in their position one day. Although I do not know the executive team personally, General Motors has multiple employee resource groups, one of which is GMWomen. Through this network, I have found multiple successful women to provide mentorship while I embark on my career, many of whom are sorority women as well. Also, if any sisters do not have any strong female role models in their careers, you are more than welcome to reach out to me!

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