Jill Speece Lands Professorship, Joins Her Former Teachers at Alma Mater 

woman holding laptop helping student

Jill Speece has perfected the art of productivity. 

The new assistant professor of industrial engineering worked in the industry, lectured at Caly Poly and raised a family, all while pursuing a doctorate in systems engineering.  

“I started getting up at 4:30 a.m. every day,” said Speece, who would crack the books before her two boys woke up for school. “You can get a lot of work done before 6:30 a.m.” 

Now, Speece is working full-time at the college with the professors who once instructed and mentored her.   

“I love Cal Poly,” Speece said. “I have gone to three schools, and they are all wonderful, but this is where my heart is.” 

Speece’s journey into higher education started at Cal Poly in 1999, when she began studying industrial engineering.  

IME Department Chair Dan Waldorf remembers Speece as an exceptional student.  

“She was so impressive even then that we all knew she would go on to do great things,” he said.  

After graduating in 2004, Speece honed her skills at Raytheon Technologies before she and her husband – a materials engineer from Cal Poly – moved to Colorado for a lifestyle change.  

She then worked for a new solar panel manufacturing company, where she watched the growing pains and eventual dissolution of a startup, before joining a medical device manufacturing company – her first foray into health care.  

Throughout her ventures, Speece felt the pull of both the Central Coast and Cal Poly. 

Her family eventually found a way to move back, and Speece wasted no time contacting the Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering Department at Cal Poly.  

“I love school and the university environment, and I knew I wanted to work with students,” said Speece, who earned a master’s degree from USC while working in industry.  

Professor helps students in lab while they are on their laptops
Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Professor Jill Speece works with IME students in the lab. Photo by Dennis Steers

She started teaching part-time at Cal Poly while serving as a process improvement consultant at Radiology Associates and researching doctorate programs.  

“I was struggling to figure out how to get my Ph.D. because I couldn’t just quit all my jobs and move,” Speece said.  

But an online program through Colorado State University gave Speece the flexibility she needed to pursue a doctorate in systems engineering.  

She tied her dissertation to a project at Radiology Associates that involved building the system architecture for an automated program that would predict when someone was likely to become a “missed appointment” so office staff could respond proactively.  

“I’m a big fan of ‘two birds, one stone,” Speece said.  

Speece also used her workplace as a teaching tool while she continued to consult and research.  

“I was able to bring my students to Radiology Associates and immerse them in health-care radiology,” said Speece, who believes Cal Poly can become the go-to resource for hospitals looking to improve their health-care operations.  

After completing her dissertation, Speece navigated a strenuous hiring process at Cal Poly and was named assistant professor this fall by a recruiting team that included Waldorf.  

The faculty now includes three women and nine men who are full-time professors.  

“Her hiring will add to the strong group of female role models at Cal Poly that continues to draw a growing representation of women into engineering,” Waldorf said.  

He also lauded the combination of skills Speece has brought to the department, drawing on her traditional background at Raytheon and experience in health-care systems at Radiology Associates.  

“She is also well-known as a brilliant collaborator, and I expect her to be able to help faculty and research teams with more out-of-the-box thinking toward innovative solutions across our industrial engineering discipline,” he said.  

In her classroom, Speece is teaching her students to tackle complex problems by considering how a system’s individual parts influence the larger whole.  

“No matter what industry they end up going into, taking a systems engineering approach to systems development is an invaluable skill,” she said.  

Speece’s focus on the bigger picture has led to her success in several spheres, and she’s encouraging her students to learn from her journey: “Embrace opportunities. You don’t have to stay at a job forever, but find the value in whatever you are doing, wherever you are,” she said. “Ultimately, find a job you love and not something you settle for.”  

By Emily Slater