Coco Zhang-Miske is petite and has the willowy figure of a model. She’s got porcelain skin and delicately wrought features. Her long hair flows down her shoulders and her makeup is impeccable. She’s not what you think of when you think of an electrical engineer.
That’s because engineering is Miske’s second career – her first one being a professional dancer. The Chongqing, China native studied dance for 10 years in Beijing. Her specialty was Chinese classical dance – a craft that is not easy to learn or perfect. Zhang-Miske said that it can take up to three years to just learn the proper hand posture.
Despite all her training however, when Zhang-Miske came to the United States, she wanted to do something different. She dabbled in fashion design and dance instruction but eventually ended up in math classes at Michigan State University. That’s when she found her second love. She eventually graduated in 2012 with a masters in Energy Systems Engineering.
Shortly after her bachelor’s degree in 2007, Zhang-Miske landed a job at GM-Buick as the Manufacturing Controls Engineer. Since then, she hasn’t taken a break – earning her masters degree while working her way from project to project. She’s currently working on the infotainment systems in all the new GM models.
We caught up with Zhang-Miske and asked her some of our burning questions:
AF: What has been the biggest adjustment from a career in dance to a career in engineering?
The only major adjustment was the change in subject matter; I think that dedication and focus are universal to every career. Although the subject matter changed dramatically for me, the hard work, determination, and absolute necessity for teamwork did not change.
AF: What is it like to work as an Asian American female in the car industry?
I personally love working for GM and I think the auto industry is a great place to grow an exciting career. The auto companies are strong supporters of the many fantastic professional organizations and community groups that allow people from every demographic background to participate in networking and outreach. GM’s dedication to diversity has helped me connect with many community leaders and professional groups.
AF: You’ve moved around a lot and risen to some top managing positions – what advice do you have for other Asian American professionals?
Be clear about what you want and go for it. Never take “no” for an answer. Don’t think any differently of yourself, for been Asian or Female. Be confident, and do the very best you can, always trying to exceed expectations on any assignment you get. Expect you will meet someone who won’t respect you working in a male-dominated industry, and you probably won’t ever change them, so do not focus on how to change their mind, but only focus on how to do your job well. Remember to never let their attitude affect you in performing your job to the best of your ability, and in that way demonstrate your potential and ultimately gain the respect of your peers.