INTUITIVE executive discovers co-op education plays key role in business success

Vergenia Shelton

UAH alumna Vergenia Shelton is president of INTUITIVE in Huntsville.

Photo Courtesy: INTUITIVE

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Vergenia Shelton (‘13, MS, ISE) dreamed of going into the medical profession. After entering college, however her career choice shifted slightly to engineering. But it was a phenomenal, cooperative education experience that left no doubt for Shelton that engineering would be the career of her dreams.

"I was able to gain real-world experience and hands-on learning. Applying what I learned in class to real work brought to life my passion and love for engineering," she said.

That passion can be seen through her outstanding leadership, according to Rey Almodóvar, Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation (INTUITIVE), Co-founder and CEO. "Vergenia is a proven leader and the ultimate professional who exemplifies INTUITIVE’s standing reputation as the innovative partner our customers trust," he said. "This is an exciting time for the INTUITIVE family and I am honored to be working alongside Vergenia as we continue to grow our business," Almodóvar added.

"INTUITIVE transformed the engineering services and government contracting industry 20 years ago by creating a superior alternative to the traditional support contractor-offering services that are technically competent, strategically sound, competitively priced, and the overall best value to our customers. Vergenia’ s dedication to the company, our employees, and our customers is immeasurable and it epitomizes our founding principles. She is doing remarkable things for INTUITIVE, and I look forward to the impact her leadership will have in the future of the company over the next 20 years and beyond."

Today, The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) alumna is president of INTUITIVE in Huntsville.

"I am a huge advocate of cooperative education (co-op) programs, and I am proud that INTUITIVE has such a robust co-op/internship program," Shelton said. "Our co-ops have the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies and software, which enhance their skill set and resume. Students in our co-op program work alongside our professionals through all phases of a project. Our goal is to provide our co-ops with insight into a day in the life of an engineer, in hopes that we can impact students in the way I was impacted," she added.

INTUITIVE is an award-winning aerospace engineering and analysis firm; the company provides sound technical solutions and program management, assisting customers throughout all phases of a product’s life cycle.

Shelton received her undergraduate degree in industrial and systems engineering from Auburn University. After working several years in Atlanta, she returned home to Scottsboro, beginning to work full time at INTUITIVE and growing her family. It was at this time she decided to earn a graduate degree in engineering at UAH.

"I needed an option that would work with my busy schedule. I was very familiar with UAH and its reputation as a leader in education — particularly the engineering program," she said. "UAH’s proximity to my work location and its flexible programs allowed me to take classes in the evenings or online. UAH was the perfect fit for me."

Shelton wrote her UAH Capstone on the benefits of Communities of Practice (CoPs). A CoP is a group of people who share a profession or craft.

"The idea is that learning can occur in a social context and people can evolve when they share a common goal or interest," Shelton explained. "I was able to take my work and research and implement CoPs at INTUITIVE. We now have several different CoP groups within our organization, and we have seen great success in these groups. It is exciting to see my work in school come to life in the workplace."

Shelton said her educational experience at UAH was relevant to the engineering and management industry. "With Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park as its neighbor, UAH does an excellent job at catering to the professional needs of the community and surrounding industry. I was able to learn from others, whether it was professors or classmates, about engineering disciplines and how they pertain to the defense industry."

As president of INTUITIVE, Shelton is responsible for the daily operation and improvement of all areas within the company. She leads the company’s efforts in formulating and implementing the strategic plan. "It is my role as president to lead the organization by creating, communicating, and implementing the company’s vision, mission, and overall direction. This includes working closely with executives to new hires and everyone in-between." Last year, Shelton led efforts for expansion into Florida. The company recently opened a new facility near Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, FL.

Under Shelton’s leadership, INTUITIVE has gained international recognition as the number one Best Medium Workplace in the nation by Great Place to Work® and FORTUNE magazine. "We are so honored to be named the number one Best Medium Workplace in the nation," said Shelton. "This marks our third time to be named number one and it’s our ninth consecutive year as a national top 10 Great Place to Work."

Shelton said the ranking considers more than 112,000 employee surveys from small and medium-sized companies across the U.S. The surveys include employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders.

"This recognition is significant to me because it is based on the satisfaction of our employees. It takes into account how our employees feel about the company," Shelton said. "At INTUITIVE, we believe in the total well-being of our employees, which is why we strive to improve our workplace and to build an even stronger corporate culture every day. We are always looking for ways to create an atmosphere where employees are truly happy and excited about where they work and what they do. Being named the Best Workplace in the nation reinforces that our commitment and hard work in building and maintaining a positive work environment and strong culture doesn’t go unnoticed," Shelton added.

She offers invaluable advice for incoming freshmen looking to establish successful careers in engineering and business.

"My advice would be to first find the right school. Attend a university with a reputable, challenging program. Second, apply for an internship or co-op position to experience the field first hand. I would also advise students to find a mentor in their respective fields and start building a network of people with similar career interests."

When it comes to women in management positions at the workplace, Shelton openly embraces her leadership role, as well as personal and professional successes. "If you look across our organization, you will find that women make up a large majority of our management staff," Shelton said. "At INTUITIVE, positions held by women include president, senior vice president, vice president, director, program manager, area leads, senior technical analysts and engineers, and subject matter experts as well as many others. Here, women are recognized for the expertise and skills they bring to the position they hold," she added.

Shelton offers key strategies for women in leadership roles:

  • Listen to role models that you admire – Find a mentor to help guide you throughout your journey towards leadership. Make sure it’s someone you believe in and who shares your same values and ethics.
  • Raise your hand – It is important to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for new opportunities.
  • Surround yourself with people who will push you – Becoming a leader means continuously growing, learning, and evolving. Surround yourself with people who push you to be the best you can, who challenge you, and who support your goals.
  • Believe in Yourself – In order for others to believe in you, you must first believe in yourself. Don’t let doubt get the best of you.

"I am lucky to work for a company that supports women in their careers. However, I would like to point out that INTUITIVE operates in a way that sends the message that all employees, regardless of gender, are encouraged to grow in their careers."


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