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NS women making a difference

Fall 2014

Jessica Kappel with Tung “T” Nguyen, Josh Jennelle, and Ryan Walker
Jessica Kappel inspects part of a GE Evolution locomotive power assembly at Roanoke locomotive Shop. Standing by are machinist Tung “T” Nguyen, right, pipefitter Josh Jennelle, left, and machinist Ryan Walker.

Jessica Kappel: Stepping up to a large challenge

Growing up in a Chicago suburb, Jessica Kappel enjoyed working on cars with her father. These days, Kappel is responsible for keeping much larger vehicles on the “road.”

As a mechanical supervisor at Norfolk Southern’s Roanoke Locomotive Shop, Kappel supervises employees who work on locomotive power assemblies and air compressors. When she was hired in June after completing the company’s yearlong management trainee program, she was the shop’s only female supervisor.

Initially, Kappel said she worried about how the shop’s male employees would react to a female supervisor.

“I was really nervous that they would not respect me, but it’s worked out really well. They don’t treat me any differently,” she said, adding that co-workers have appreciated her willingness to ask questions. “I was out on the floor shadowing employees to fully understand the shop. They respected that I wanted to learn what they were doing rather than just supervise them without knowing what they were doing.”

Kappel, who graduated from Purdue University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, had a lot to learn about locomotives. “I had never seen a locomotive up close,” she said.

Because of a lifelong love of cars, Kappel had intended to pursue a career in the automotive industry. She shifted gears after the 2008 economic downturn left automakers in financial straits. Still desiring a career in transportation, Kappel turned her focus to trains.

Kappel found what she was looking for after attending a job fair at Purdue and speaking to an NS human resources representative about mechanical engineering jobs on the railroad.                        

“I have always been interested in moving parts, and I wanted to do something different day to day and not just sit behind a desk,” she said. “I wanted to get my hands dirty.”

Jessica Kappel
Jessica Kappel, mechanical supervisor, is pictured in the Roanoke Locomotive Shop.

Contemplating a long future with NS, Kappel said one area of concern is the transient lifestyle often associated with career advancement on the railroad.

“Realistically, I’ll probably move around a lot,” she said. “Right now, it’s perfect because it’s just me and my dog, but in the long run, I’d like to have a family. With moving around a lot and the potential of my job to be on call 24/7, how do you balance that?”

Kappel has found support from other women at NS, including those she has met through YoungNS, WiNS, and at the company’s Women in Operations Leadership Conference she attended at Brosnan Forest earlier this year.

“In my mind, I had an image of what women who work for the railroad were like,” Kappel said. “I had heard that railroad workers gain a lot of weight because of the abundance of unhealthy food, but the women at the conference were all concerned with eating right and had the same concerns I had. It was really reassuring.”

As she develops her NS career, Kappel said she plans to continue cultivating those relationships. “As long as I’m somewhere in the mechanical department,” she said, “I’ll be happy.”