Rita Breen is a Double Jacket: She earned her B.S. in psychology from Georgia Tech in 1990 and her M.S. in industrial engineering from the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) in 1992. Originally from Odessa, Ukraine, Breen and her father – a marine biologist turned mechanical engineer – emigrated to the U.S. to pursue greater opportunities than were available in Soviet Ukraine.
Breen’s favorite subject growing up was math, and with her father’s career path as an example, she decided that she wanted to pursue engineering as well. Georgia Tech was a natural fit.
In the following interview, Breen – who serves on the Georgia Tech Alumni Association Board of Trustees – talks about how her psychology and ISyE degrees complement one another, the career path that led to her current role as executive director of both the Georgia Power Foundation, Inc. and the Southern Company Charitable Foundation, and how she uses her ISyE skills in this role.
You’ve said that you’ve always been interested in industrial engineering, but that the human side of implementation interested you as well, so you earned your first degree from Georgia Tech in applied psychology. What interests you about the human element of engineering?
In my first co-op job, the company was going through a reorganization. The productivity plummeted as employees faced uncertainty. This was a great lesson and inspired dozens of questions about how things could have been done differently to engage people. The ISyE curriculum had a couple of classes on organizational behavior and human-centered design; my desire to learn beyond that led me to the School of Psychology.
You ultimately went on to earn your M.S. in industrial engineering from Tech. How do your two degrees complement one another?
The degrees are a nice complement: Engineering helped me to develop a skillset of problem solving and critical thinking, while psychology taught me to understand and design for people.
You are the executive director of both the Georgia Power Foundation, Inc. and the Southern Company Charitable Foundation. Describe your career path that eventually led to this role.
I have been very fortunate in my career with Georgia Power – two decades in customer experience, marketing, renewable energy, and now charitable giving. Georgia Power encourages employees to be an integral part of the community, and as I began to do work in the community, I loved it so much that I wanted to spend more time doing it. This interest developed over a decade ago, and I invested in learning about the nonprofit sector while I had other jobs – everything from fundraising for nonprofits to serving on boards and gala committees. The preparation and relationships I developed positioned me as a strong candidate when this role became available.
What makes you passionate and enthusiastic about working with the foundations?
The passion is for community support across Georgia – helping nonprofits to address opportunities and needs in education, environment, human services, and the arts.
What is important about the relationship between the Georgia Power Foundation and Georgia Tech?
Education is a key focus area for both Georgia Power and the Georgia Power Foundation because it is one of the key drivers of the state’s future work force and economic success. The Foundation maintains partnerships with universities across the state, including Georgia Tech.
How do you use your ISyE skills in your current role?
My role is split between nonprofit engagement and business and team leadership. Like managing any other part of the business, this role entails being responsible for employees, budgets, analytics, technology utilization, and process management. Reducing bottlenecks, simplifying processes, and optimizing technology are all ISyE skills that get used on a regular basis.
You were recently named to the Georgia Tech Alumni Association Board of Trustees. How do you plan to give back to Tech through this opportunity, and what are you looking forward to from the experience?
This is my third year serving on the Georgia Tech Gold and White Honors Gala sponsorship committee, and I’ve enjoyed raising money for the Alumni Association. I am looking forward to opportunities to provide input into the Alumni Association’s strategic direction and to meeting students through programs like Dinner Jackets.
What is your definition of success?
My professional definition of success is to be able to do the work I love and to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering