Growing up, Gina Janke ’87 was what she calls a “Lincoln Logs and Erector Set girl.” She gravitated toward hands-on activities, like taking apart objects and working on her car. These interests and her course work at Harvey Mudd College drew Janke to mechanical engineering and eventually led her to Modine Manufacturing, a century-old maker of heat transfer products for vehicles and buildings.
“My family wasn’t technically oriented. Because I didn’t have any role models, I didn’t really have a vision for myself other than to use math and science in problem-solving. Engineering was practical problem-solving,” says Janke, who began her engineering career at Rockwell International in Southern California.
Marriage brought Janke to the Midwest and to Modine’s Racine, Wisconsin, global headquarters, where she started in manufacturing engineering in 1997. Her early work in the Truck Division focused on determining the best processes and practices to physically transfer vehicular products—radiators, condensers, coolers and other components designed to support customers’ performance, durability and fuel efficiency goals—from one manufacturing plant to another, whether located in Missouri, Tennessee, Mexico or Brazil.
She later transitioned into quality and industrial engineering, working directly with customers and conducting time studies to understand labor costs and to optimize production. Now Janke is a principal manufacturing engineer in the Vehicular Thermal Solutions segment of the business, primarily involved with the capital investment and cost-estimating aspects of building Modine’s products.
“I’ve gotten to do so many things and worked with people who gave me room to grow,” says Janke, noting that this is why she’s stayed with the company for more than two decades.
These days, Janke spends most of her time in an office cubicle, though the company’s testing center located elsewhere in her building is a visible reminder of the end product of her work. There, a wind tunnel large enough to fit a big rig, simulates environments ranging from desert-like to frigid, while the vehicle’s engine races, making it possible to assess if products are heating and cooling properly.
Janke is also committed to a purpose that extends beyond her work at Modine: She wants to bring more girls and women into STEM fields, particularly technical positions and engineering. At Modine, opportunities may start as an internship and progress into a full-time position.
“Being raised female shouldn’t be a barrier to a career that interests you,” says Janke, who has hired a number of Modine interns, several of them women. “If there are opportunities in engineering in general, I think there are opportunities for women. It’s a matter of getting women through the pipeline and giving them a bigger presence.”
She has sought to accomplish this largely through her participation in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the organization she first joined in the 1980s while attending Harvey Mudd. Janke recalls that SWE was the College’s only student organization for women at the time and that her graduating class included approximately 25 women across all majors.
“We had an active group that did outreach events with girls in the area,” recalls Janke. “I thought it was a good community. We were like one big family.”
She has remained involved with SWE for more than 30 years, and Janke was recognized nationally in 2018 for her service. She received the organization’s Fellow Grade Award, an honor granted to a member with at least 20 years of continuous service to SWE who has achieved professional excellence and has helped advance other women in engineering and engineering management.
Janke founded and chaired the scholarship committee for SWE’s Wisconsin Section and served as treasurer for both Wisconsin and the Midwest Region. She is particularly proud to have raised thousands of dollars to provide scholarships for women engineering students in her state, noting that the scholarship recipients include one of the several interns she has mentored at Modine.
I want to do whatever I can to bring more women into engineering and get kids out of poverty through reading education and STEM outreach. That is my mission.
– Gina Janke ’87
Janke is also keen to expand opportunities for young people growing up in the Racine area, where the poverty rate is high and there is a shortage of workers prepared to fill technical positions.
Through her affiliation with the nonprofit United Way, Janke has been a reading tutor to students at Racine-area elementary schools for the last seven years. She also has represented SWE at Milwaukee’s annual STEMfest and worked with Milwaukee middle schools on the Future Cities Competition at which participants designed a virtual city, created a tabletop-sized model of their city incorporating recycled materials, and prepared essays and presentations about their projects. This sort of hands-on work naturally resonates with Janke.
“I enjoy my work, but outreach to young people, especially in my community, is my passion,” says Janke. “I want to do whatever I can to bring more women into engineering and get kids out of poverty through reading education and STEM outreach. That is my mission.”