Alumni Spotlight - December 2023
Keri Weishaar '05
By Rebecca Burkeen, Director of Alumni Relations
Keri Johnson Weishaar grew up in Eureka, CA, where she became interested in drawing and auto shop courses while in high school. With those two interests in mind, Keri thought she could combine her passions for a career in automobile design. Instead of attending art school, though, Keri chose to attend Oregon Tech as a mechanical engineering major. The small class sizes helped Keri feel comfortable during her time studying at the Klamath Falls campus.
As a student at Oregon Tech, Keri was a member of the SAE Baja team, which she thoroughly enjoyed. She also recalled the support and guidance she received from Professor Tim Brower. Towards the end of her college career, Keri participated in the Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program (MECOP) internships where she had the opportunity to work for A-Dec, a dental equipment manufacturing company in Newberg, OR, and Climax Portable Machine Tools, also in Newberg. In her words, Keri says, “My college experience really was the connection between realizing what my passion was and then living that.”
Post-graduation, Keri began her career as a mechanical engineer working as a CAD designer for a residential fire sprinkler design company in Vancouver, WA. She still aspired to work in the automotive industry, though, so her next professional move was to Freightliner as a contractor in reliability engineering. In that position, she managed pre-production vehicles that were being tested to document any issues. Keri left the contracting position and transitioned to work as a full-time permanent employee with Freightliner (now Daimler Trucks), working with the durability track. This opportunity allowed Keri to act as a liaison between the design department and durability testing. She also received her CDL, which allowed her to drive the trucks that were being tested. Keri met challenges as a young female in the automotive industry, so after more than five years at Freightliner, she made a bold career move. During a women in engineering conference, Keri learned about an opportunity at PACCAR, a global leader in design and manufacturing of commercial trucks. Keri recalls driving through the state of Washington for the job interview, near the San Juan Islands, and instantly feeling at home. Within a week, she was hired at PACCAR as a Powertrain Validation Engineer. In 2015, after three years in that role, she transitioned into her current role as a Customer Field Test Engineer. Keri is so happy at PACCAR that she hopes to stay there for the remainder of her career.
Keri is much more than a mechanical engineer for a Fortune 500 company. She is also an entrepreneur! The love of racing she cultivated at Oregon Tech as a member of the SAE Baja team, especially her passion for high-speed desert racing, has endured. Keri eventually got her own street-legal truck that she used for racing and one day she came across a mobile fire extinguisher mount with a quick release, perfect for her racing truck. Not impressed with the pricing or quality of the existing product, Keri decided to design her own extinguisher mount, collaborating with a laser-cutting vendor she had met while at Freightliner. After installing it in her truck and posting about it on social media, nine people wanted to order her custom mounts within the first day of posting, and 90 orders were placed in the first six months. That was the impetus for Keri starting Trophy Girl Designs in 2011. Keri’s business allows her to continue her hobby and passion by connecting with others in the racing world, while using her skills to design new products.
Keri’s passions and career have lent to some truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for this Oregon Tech alumna. The first was riding in the Freightliner-sponsored semi-truck up the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, the second oldest race in U.S. history. Keri was the first and only passenger to ever ride during the race in the truck. Also, through off-road racing, Keri met the late Jessi Combs, considered the fastest woman on earth. Jessi referred Keri to Monster Jam, where she got to test as a driver for three days in the infamous Grave Digger truck! With PACCAR, Keri has gone on numerous test trips but the most notable one was a 4-day trip to Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. She tested a semi-truck in winter weather for two weeks, just a mile from the start of the ice road where the first season of Ice Road Truckers was filmed. Keri explains, “Truly all of these experiences are part of me and things I hold dear to my heart. Not something most people get to do!”
This active engineer stays very busy with her family of four, including husband Nick Weishaar and sons, 2-year-old Tanner and 6-year-old Bodie. The family loves to travel and enjoy new experiences. As Keri describes, they love to “enjoy life while having a very stable foundation.” Keri’s advice for Oregon Tech students is jokingly to “party a little less and do a little more homework.” In all seriousness though, Keri explains that “four years or longer can feel like a really long time when you’re that age, but suffer through as much as you have to because it’s worth it later.” Keri is so proud and grateful for her education and the growth mindset she developed in college. We are equally proud of her as a representative of women in engineering. Go Owls!