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Alissa Thomas '02: "My engineering skills help me in everything I do"

Alissa Thomas '02 originally never really considered her long-term plans following graduation from Lehigh University.

The last decade has been a successful one for Thomas however, with the chemical engineering alum ascending with each experience, including her work at Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, an MBA at Carnegie Mellon to her current home at CIGNA Healthcare.

Thomas immediately began her post-graduate journey with a position at Merck & Co., one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. During her two years there, she worked as a plant engineer in central Pennsylvania, taking on additional project management roles through her training in the manufacturing management development program.

Merck took a hit from the Vioxx scandal in 2004, which seemed like the right time for Thomas to explore other options.

"The layoffs were coming," Thomas explained, "and I wasn’t happy in my role as a manufacturing supervisor in a union vaccine plant. So I moved on."

Thomas made the right move, finding a position with GlaxoSmithKline. She enjoyed her four years at GSK, working as a member of a pilot plant that created pharmaceuticals in development that eventually went onto clinical and safety trials.

Still feeling that something was missing, Thomas shifted directions, deciding to go back to graduate school. Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business was her choice, and two years later she completed her master of business administration with a focus on innovation and product development.

After CMU, Thomas found a home with one of the top health service companies in the world -- Cigna Healthcare.

"It took me three rounds of interviews for three different jobs with Cigna for them to offer me a job," Thomas said. "It can be challenging to convince companies that as a former engineer, you can transition into a business role."

Thomas initially started with Cigna as a product manager, but has since been promoted to Director of State Exchange Implementation, including a role as one of the leaders in the company's Health Insurance Exchange enterprise project. Thomas explained that in 2014, people will be able to purchase healthcare insurance on state exchange websites.

Throughout the last decade, Thomas has used her education and skills acquired at Lehigh in her decision-making on a daily basis.

"Whenever someone asked me why I thought an engineer could do the job," said Thomas, "I told them I believe that my engineering skills help me in everything I do. My professors at Lehigh taught me chemical engineering skills, but they also taught me how to think."


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