Developing “The Machine”

Susan Benzel (’88) Helps Lead Next-Generation Computing Solution

By Angie Dixon (’94)

Susan Benzel ('88)

Susan Benzel (’88)

Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s The Machine is being touted as one the most revolutionary changes to modern-day computing, and Susan Benzel (’88, Electrical Engineering) is one of two Rams leading its charge.

A project being developed from HPE’s Fort Collins campus, The Machine flips the current computing architecture model on its head. For you computer whizzes, you know that Central Processing Units are the driving force behind computers. We need our CPU’s to perform many functions and to access data. But with The Machine, memory – and lots of it – is at the center, providing a more direct link to data, which can dramatically increase computing speed and reduce the energy needed to perform computing functions.

“For the first time ever, my son is totally jealous of my work,” laughs Benzel, whose son is a recent CSU computer engineering grad now working on his master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. “I’ve worked in high tech for 28 years and this by far is the most exciting project I’ve worked on.”

Together with Katy Evertson (M.B.A., ’11,), Benzel is part of a dynamic three-woman team bringing The Machine to market.

“It’s been very rewarding being a part of this team, especially when there is such disparity between men and women in electrical engineering,” says Benzel. “Hopefully we set an example.”

Why still the disparity? Benzel believes there are two contributing factors: research indicating that women want to go into fields that help other people, and misconceptions about what it means to be an engineer.

Photo courtesy Hewlett Packard Enterprise

One of The Machine’s node assemblies. Courtesy Hewlett Packard Enterprise

“More work needs to done to help women understand that engineering is a career that does help people,” Benzel says. “The connection maybe isn’t as obvious, and there are a wide variety of things, such as training, sales, solution architecture, documentation, or support, that you can do with an engineering degree. Not all jobs are developing and designing; an engineering degree opens doors and gives you many career options.”

Raised by a single mom growing up, Benzel always enjoyed math and science. When talking with her high school counselor about career options, he only told her she could be a math teacher.

“I got frustrated,” she recalls. Determined to find more options, she met with the dean of CSU’s engineering college, who spoke with her about engineering and career opportunities after graduation. She decided to pursue electrical engineering, and after talking to friends and family, chose to attend CSU.

Her experience at CSU was tough, yet supportive. From her first conversation with the dean of engineering, to the camaraderie she felt from other students studying in engineering’s “arcade” (not a game room, but a simple hallway in the building) to the support she received from her honor society mentor, Myra Powers, she felt CSU provided her with the support and tools she needed to forge her future.

“I learned how to problem solve, how to work in a group, give presentations, and more than anything, what the work world might be like as an engineer.”

She admits that she struggled in her first job out of college.

“I was doing work I had never done before, and I felt like I was totally in over my head,” she recalls, “but I got there. I just continued on. Never once did I internalize that I shouldn’t be there.”

That basic focus and determination, and recognizing the importance of lending a helping hand, are foundational to her success.

For years, Benzel has been a part of HPE’s Leadership Development Program, where she helps mentor and support other employees on how to be more effective in their roles. She also works with CSU students who visit HP as part of the College of Engineering’s Professional Learning Institute program.

She encourages people to always see the bigger picture and understand how they fit into that vision – they will feel more motivated to do a good job because their work will be more relevant – and she shares the same message that she conveyed in her 2016 fall commencement speech to engineering graduates: tell stories in your work (people are more likely to remember what you are saying), hold hands, and have fun.

As The Machine continues to reach more key, successful milestones, what impact does she hope her work will have on future engineering graduates, and the broader CSU community?

“I hope it’s positive, especially for women,” she says, “and I hope people will see you do help other people when you pursue a career in engineering. I hope they talk to other engineers when making their career decisions, both men and women, and that they are willing to give engineering a try.”