Autumn Turner Blazes Trail as New Lab Instructor 

Teacher demonstrates skill in lab
Industrial and manufacturing engineering lecturer Autumn Turner, right, introduces her students to the lathes in the Haas Lab.

Autumn Turner found her calling as a manufacturing engineer in a male-dominated field and now hopes to help others do the same.  

When she arrived at Cal Poly in 2015, she joined only four other women in the manufacturing program. She then became the only undergraduate woman working in an advanced manufacturing lab her junior year.  

“She used to wander over to my classroom to see how she could help,” said Jeff Zimmerman, who lectured in an adjoining lab to the one Turner was assigned.  

Four years after graduating, Turner has returned to the College of Engineering as the sole woman teaching in a manufacturing lab.  

“I like helping students learn,” said Turner after leading her first material removal lab class in Building 41. “I also want to open the door wide to women in engineering, showing that these roles do exist.” 

Teacher shows student the lathes in a lab
Industrial and manufacturing engineering lecturer Autumn Turner, left, teaches her students about proper use of equipment in the Haas Lab.

Turner was introduced to manufacturing at Coalfax High School. She learned to weld in a class where she was the only girl, practiced using a CNC router to cut materials and loved it all. 

“I feel like I’m not a terribly creative person, but I can look at something and figure out how it’s made,” said Turner who grew up watching the Canadian documentary series “How It’s Made.” 

Her interest was solidified when a peer who went to Cal Poly returned to Coalfax High to share his experience studying manufacturing and working in an advanced lab.  

Turner wanted to do both, and eventually did.  

“I always felt like I was on the edge of what women don’t do and I thought that was super cool,” Turner said. “For me, pushing boundaries felt exciting and fueled me to go even further.” 

After graduating in 2019, Turner started work at Empirical Systems Aerospace – a company founded in 2003 by a Cal Poly graduate to supply engineering services and products to the aerospace community.  

Turner also remained in touch with Zimmerman, who contacted her about a recent opening for a part-time lecturer that she was eager to fill.  

Her new role has given Turner both the chance to return to a learning lab and connect with students who might join her in the field one day.  

“I want to create a memorable experience for my students by curating a community while sprinkling in my professional experience,” said Turner, who will continue as deputy director of project management at ESAero.  

Students in Turner’s three-hour class will learn to use manual lathe and CNC mills, along with how to design products for simple, cost-effective manufacturing.  

“I want them to think about the cost, quality and impact of a part, then ask, ‘Will this add additional costs or is it necessary?’” 

Turner is a big believer in asking lots of questions, as she knows it’s imperative to lab safety but also to success in the classroom and workforce. 

“You can’t be afraid to speak up because you may also be helping someone else who has the same question,” she said.  

As Turner concluded her first class, she was excited to see how many women were enrolled since she said the numbers have risen substantially since her freshman year eight years ago.  

Counting down the roster, she noted eight of her 23 students are women.  

“I would like to see more,” she said. “We still have some work to do.” 

By Emily Slater