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Ford-MIT Alliance directors share an office, a home and a life

Steven and Kristin Schondorf are the joint executive directors of the Ford-MIT Alliance.
Steven and Kristin Schondorf are the joint executive directors of the Ford-MIT Alliance.

Kristin and Steven Schondorf are bringing job-sharing to a new level. The couple, who married shortly after receiving their MIT degrees, began work this month as joint executive directors of the Ford-MIT Alliance.

The Schondorfs, who have both worked for Ford Motor Co. since graduating, returned to MIT in October after working on Ford assignments in the United States and abroad. They met as graduate students in their last semester, standing in line to sign up for job interviews. They quickly realized they had many things in common, including their ongoing work on their theses and their professional interests in the automotive industry.

As an MIT freshman, Kristin Schondorf (then Kristin Slanina) had chosen mechanical engineering as a flexible major that would open many career fields. Her interest in the automotive industry was sparked when she joined the solar car team in 1991. She became hooked on the field after she drove two days of the five-day American Tour Del Sol, which MIT won. After she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering in 1991 and 1992, she and Steven spent six weeks in Europe before heading to Dearborn, Mich., for their first jobs with Ford.

Steven Schondorf's first academic love was aerospace. He earned the S.B. in aeronautics and astronautics in 1988 and then worked on the International Space Station program. Space seems glamorous, he said, but the reality of being tied to congressional budget cycles isn't. So he returned to MIT to earn a dual master's degree in technology policy and aerospace engineering in 1992. "I was looking for something more collegial than my undergraduate experience, and the Technology and Policy Program was exactly that. Every minute of every day - I loved it."

As graduation approached, Steven knew he wanted to work in a more tangible field than space, and he interviewed with one non-aerospace company: Ford. When both he and Kristen received good offers, they headed for the Midwest. Kristin became a cylinder head component engineer in the engine division and Steven worked as a systems engineer on a new battery electric vehicle.

In 1996, Ford tapped Kristin to move to Germany. Kristin was soon named supervisor of a product support group in the Cologne engine plant. Although women engineers were rare, she quickly proved herself not only through her work but as the only female player on the Ford soccer team.

Steven, who quickly followed Kristin to Germany, has worked in a series of assignments in the electrical/electronic systems division to design electrical system architectures, vehicle wiring, electronic module diagnostics and airbag electronics.

A promotion for Steven brought the Schondorfs back to the United States in 1999. He returned to form and manage a group devoted to restraints electronics. Most recently he has been working on Ford's fuel cell vehicles.

A signature of Steven's work style is the invention group he starts in each new job. Weekly brainstorming lunches have produced a stream of ideas. "Ford has a very good system for submitting ideas for inventions and technologies," he said. "We've been very successful."

In 1999, Kristin also returned to the United States and worked in engine performance development, the department responsible for V-engine development, durability testing and analysis. Since returning to work after a maternity leave following the birth of their son Benjamin in March 2000, she has worked on defining the Lincoln brand and working as a powertrain program management supervisor.

The Schondorfs have returned regularly to MIT to recruit students for Ford and to keep up with friends. In January 2002, Kristin joined an advisory group for the Ford-MIT Alliance and soon realized that the Ford-MIT connection was rich - and a potential new assignment.

"It was a long shot that we could do it as a job share," she said. "As alumni, it seemed like a great idea. So we applied and got the job."

Understanding the scope of the Ford-MIT Alliance is their first goal. Then they want to investigate projects beyond the current alliance to learn about research that might benefit Ford business and technologies, as well as to consider funding in new areas.

The Schondorfs are sharing a job that's considered the equivalent of about one and a half full-time positions. "We plan to utilize each other's strengths and divide the job as it makes sense," Steven said. Those strengths include Steven's sense of invention and using technologies in new ways, and Kristin's management skills and interest in technologies in depth.

Boston and MIT also have a personal pull for the couple, who will live near Harvard Square. "When I was here as a student, I had no time or money to explore Boston. I haven't even been to Cape Cod," Kristin said.

"We're also looking forward to reuniting with old friends - we have a strong network of friends at MIT and in the area," Steven said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 30, 2002.

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