Brenda Martin: Create a vision of what an industry’s future could become with you involved.

This blog is part of a series for Women’s History Month to highlight women who are making an impact on the manufacturing industry.

Brenda Martin, CIRAS Program Director

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Hello, My name is Brenda (Vande Voort) Martin. I’m employed with the Iowa MEP (CIRAS) at Iowa State University of Science and Technology in Ames, Iowa. I am married with three adult children and two grandchildren living in Iowa. A descendant of grandparents who immigrated from Holland to Pella, I have lived in Iowa my entire life.   My mother was a homemaker, and my father worked for an engineering firm. He greatly influenced me with his vast mechanical know-how that involved the two of us in rebuilding my car engine and numerous other projects that were not common for my peers during that era. Industry experiences from my teen years include working for Vermeers and watching the production lines at the Rolscreen (Pella Corporation).

I graduated from Truman State University with a Biology and Environmental Science degree.

As Workforce Programs Director, I enjoy applying my unique experiences to help CIRAS and our clients.

How did you get into the manufacturing industry?

I began my career in manufacturing 41 years ago with Carnation Company which Nestle later acquired. We produced canned pet food, which required a complex process in a niche market. I am proud of my contributions that helped the company become a global innovator of Petcare products.

How long have you worked at your Center?

I’ve worked with the Iowa MEP for 21 years.

What do you like most about working in manufacturing?

Forty-one years ago, I found what I wanted: taking raw materials, ideas, and people, applying science, processes, and technical innovation that turns it all into a finished product that the world wants and needs.

Today: The uniqueness of each business requires me to help them find the right resources at the right time, drawing on my expertise and experience. I get excited seeing clients succeed, motivating me to give my best.

What has been your greatest challenge as a woman in manufacturing, and how did you overcome it?

When I began my career 41 years ago, the prevailing attitude and reality were that women didn’t work outside the home, not in manufacturing, and certainly not in leadership positions in industry. However, I found a family-owned company that was open-minded, giving me an equal opportunity to compete for employment and promotion based on skill and merit. I jumped at the chance to work for Carnation Company and took every training and skill-building experience I could. It was difficult; I spent years on the second and third shifts.

Although there was often a higher standard that women were held to and some who had to be convinced that I belonged, I used this challenge to be more focused on outperforming by working extremely hard to learn every aspect of our business. I won credibility based on the results. My unique perspective was new to the male-dominated meetings, where they soon recognized me as a valuable team member.

Reflecting on my past, I confess I was often the only woman on the committee, board, or leadership team. I continue to realize I represent myself and all women who may desire positions in manufacturing.

What is your advice for women interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing?

Answer the question: What is it I want? Then make it happen!

Have a curious and open mind about what is happening in manufacturing. Create a vision of what an industry’s future could become with you involved. Iowa’s manufacturers are rapidly adapting to technology and the global economy, which means they offer great opportunities for employees capable of supporting their growth.

Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. People who work in the industry can share their path and give ideas. See it; try it out. There are various ways to learn about manufacturing in clubs, school activities, and manufacturing-focused weeks in Iowa, where you can attend plant visits.

Content was generated for:

Manufacturing Innovation, the blog of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), is a resource for manufacturers, industry experts and the public on key U.S. manufacturing topics. There are articles for those looking to dive into new strategies emerging in manufacturing as well as useful information on tools and opportunities for manufacturers.

The views presented here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of NIST.

For more information, contact Gayle Mastbergen at