As a child, Theresa Christy, MBA’88, liked solving puzzles. During dinner, she and her five siblings would figure out word problems posed by their math-loving father. In college, she studied math and economics. Then in 1986, she took a job at Otis Elevator in Farmington, Conn., where today she applies her puzzle-solving prowess to optimizing elevator designs. She’s a named inventor on 14 Otis patents, and she helped design the elevator system in the Petronas Twin Towers—each 1,483 feet tall with 88 floors—in Malaysia.
What does elevator design entail? In a small building, it’s obvious which elevator will come. But when you get to a skyscraper, it becomes an art and science. We ask questions like, what is the building for? How many people are on each floor? What will the traffic pattern likely be? Depending on the type of building, there are standard industry formulas that you run for quick base decisions. From there, each company has its own proprietary simulation program. So you run the simulation to see what happens—if I change this factor, can I make it a little better?
You were interviewed for The Wall Street Journal on elevator design. Yes, I was amazed at how much publicity came out of that interview. A gentleman visiting from China for training showed me myself in a Chinese version of the paper. After seeing the story, Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace on NPR asked me to be on his show. He was so pleasant to talk to, and the edited version of the interview made me sound terrific.
You also volunteer. I’ve worked with the Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair for about 10 years now. I’ve seen some really gifted children. I wish science and engineering were something that more kids thought of as good career paths. A lot of times I’m asked to speak to students because they want a female role model. I don’t tell them this is what you should do. It’s more, this is out there. Be aware, and look into it. I also volunteer for VITA [Volunteer Income Tax Assistance], which is a program sponsored by the IRS to assist low-income and elderly families and individuals with their taxes.
What’s a favorite pastime? I love to ride my bicycle. It’s battery powered to help me get up the hills. I’m not good at handling hills, never have been. Every summer, I’d say, this year I’m going to develop my legs, but it never happened. So now I can go anywhere, and I don’t have to worry about a hill. —Donna Coco