Rachel Middleton graduated in 2016 with a BBA in International Business. She shares her career path through Amazon and her future goals. As our alumni spotlight, Rachel talks about the unorthodox class lessons that helped her years later in her career, her travels, her advice to students to always seek feedback, and her many unique hobbies.
Q: Were you involved in any clubs or extracurriculars during your college experience? If so, what organizations/clubs?
A: Entrepreneurs Society, Global Ambassadors Program, Internship with Verizon Wireless (via a career fair held at UM-Flint)
Q: Where are you currently working and your title? How long have you been in this position or at this organization?
A: I have worked for Amazon for going on 7 years. I am currently a Senior Program Manager for Amazon Robotics but started off my career within a year of graduating from UM-Flint as an Area Manager for Amazon Sort Centers. In my tenure, I have been promoted from middle management in the warehouse and manufacturing space, to upper management in the Learning & Development space, to now managing large-scale programs and projects for Amazon Robotics. I started this career in San Antonio, TX, but have been all around the country with Amazon to either launch new sites, conduct Kaizen events for process improvements, or start my next role in a new city. I lived in Jacksonville, FL, for almost 3 years, and now live in Waco, TX, where I am working from home and spending quality time with my dogs and cats.
Q: What is your job like day to day?
A: As a Senior Program Manager, my day-to-day duties adapt to the needs of the business and of the teams under the Amazon Robotics umbrella. I develop project plans, build informational websites for information repositories, assess and onboard third-party support, evaluate launch outcomes, reintegrate learning into the organization and product plan, and manage programs from development stages through to launch and Hypercare. Throughout the program or project lifecycle, I manage performance and measure, determine, then drive, any initiatives necessary to improve it. My job calls for understanding aspects of how new service and/or product launches will impact the internal and/or external customer experience and partnering closely with Amazon business stakeholders to ensure said services or products are meeting needs.
We are experimenting with new questions for our alumni feature! We would like for you to answer and make this your own based on your path and experience.
Q: Share your best college memory
A: In one of Dr. Laurence’s classes, his first group project assignment was for the group to do something together that was entirely unrelated to class. The activity was for us to decide, and my group got together for a game of beer pong, in true college fashion. To this day, one of the people I met through that experience is a great friend, who got my younger brother his first job, and is also a successful graduate of UM-Flint. I tell this story often as I really appreciated how Dr. Laurence prioritized building a connection within a team before giving us any executive functions to perform. I utilize this approach in different ways in my career to this day. If you earn the trust of your team, performing tasks together becomes both smoother and easier.
Q: How did your education at UM-Flint prepare you for what you are doing today?
A: As a first-generation college student from parents who respectively either barely graduated high school or was an immigrant, I had very little preparation for higher education despite performing well academically prior to my college experience. UM-Flint was the stepping stone I needed to segue between knowing nothing of the possible paths available to me and jumping into a career path I could excel in. Having grown up in the Flint/Burton area, UM-Flint offered me the stability of staying close to home while working on my education.
Q: Who influenced you most during your time at UM-Flint and why?
A: Both Dr. Laurence and Dr. Witt in the School of Management were fantastic role models for me. Their teaching methods were memorable in that they were somewhat unorthodox, and to this day I hold a lot of respect for their ability to engage their students in things bigger than themselves.
Q: Describe your career path.
A: I started off as an Area Manager for Sort Centers with Amazon. I was promoted within the role to a higher-level Area Manager within the Sort Center network and spent a year in that role before moving into the Fulfillment Center space to continue growth within my own skill sets. After getting accustomed to a new, faster-paced, and more demanding space, I was again promoted to Operations Manager for Learning & Development. In this role, I managed a team responsible for onboarding and training Amazon warehouse employees from Tier 1 level associates through Level 6 Operations Managers. In that space, I also facilitated the launches of four different fulfillment centers across three different states. After those successful launches, I wanted to slow down in my career in order to prioritize my life at home and transferred into my current role as a Senior Program Manager, where I am an individual contributor and appreciate working from home.
Q: What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
A: My advice to current students would be to field 360 feedback wherever they can in life. This can even be practiced as a student through conversations with peers and professors. Being open to feedback that sometimes may be difficult to hear, and being able to show up with an action plan to address opportunities and fine-tune strengths is something that will speak volumes to those around you. Do not wait nor expect someone to do this for you. I’ve seen time and time again that people struggle to move forward or upward because they are waiting on their manager or their peers to give them the tools they need to advance. Be tenacious; show up for yourself. Asking the right questions can take you a long way (e.g. How am I to work with? Do you consider my writing strong? What courses/trainings are available to me to better my understanding of this subject? What do I need to work on?).
Q: What is a long-term career or professional goal you have for yourself?
A: I would like to continue diversifying my skill sets to prepare myself for an international move. I consider my background in manufacturing management and learning and development to be strong and am working to bring my program management skills up to the same level of proficiency. For me, this looks like continuing to take on projects or programs that have a global impact on Amazon. As a dual citizen of the USA and Japan, and would like my experiences to open doors for me to move back to Japan or perhaps another country.
Q: Fun Facts! (Examples: sports fan, long-term goals, favorite vacation, future travel plans/ideas, or come up with your own!)
A: I’ve been to 46 US states and 25 different countries since I graduated college. I’ve always had a passion for travel, different cultures, and languages and I’ve really prioritized it since I started being able to afford it. My next vacation will likely be going home to see my family in Japan as I have not been back there since the pandemic began.
Q: What is something people may not know about you?
A: I have many, many hobbies that are all over the map and don’t often come up in conversation in my profession as they are quite the opposite of what is typically discussed. When they do come up, however, people tend to be surprised. I’ve played many instruments from a young age (piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, ukulele, banjo, and harmonica), I do a lot of art (paintings (portrait, landscape), Dungeons and Dragons miniatures painting, and tattooing (licensed in Florida) – I’ve also tattooed myself), I train dogs (I myself own a Belgian Malinois (working line) and a Siberian Husky, and trained Belgian Malinois dogs for obedience and bite work in Texas), and I sew clothes and blankets. I like to stay busy and enjoy activities that are mentally stimulating.