Sarah Grimm turned her lifelong hobby of making small things into a fulfilling career

At age 7, Sarah Grimm constructed her first dollhouse out of a cardboard box. Then, she started painting small figurines and sculpting miniature furniture and accessories out of clay. That sparked what she calls “a lifelong hobby of making small things.”

Given her affinity for miniatures, Grimm found a natural fit in Lorain County Community College’s Mechatronics program, which offers hands-on training for assembling electronic components, MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) and printed circuit boards (PCB). As part of her Fab Lab class, the North Ridgeville resident used digital fabrication equipment to build a modern two-story dollhouse, complete with tiny acrylic chairs and bookshelves made with a laser cutter.

It took eight moves, five other colleges and a variety of jobs to discover her future in MEMS, but Grimm finally found the skills to succeed at LCCC.

“I love working with my hands and making useful things, and the MEMS program is made for people who have a need to create, just like me.”
Sarah Grimm

Finding a fit

Born and raised in Chautauqua County, New York, Grimm initially entered college in 1999 as a physical therapy major. But when her husband, Brian, joined the Marine Corps, their frequent moves put her on a pivoting career path.

“When we’d move to a new place, the nearest college wouldn’t always have the same major I’d been studying, so I’d have to find the next closest thing,” says Grimm, who changed her major to biology, then horticulture, then geology before earning a bachelor’s degree in 2007 at the fifth college she attended. Meanwhile, she worked a variety of jobs, spanning security to marketing, for organizations from greenhouses to the Marine Corps headquarters.

But when her husband was stationed in Cleveland, Grimm realized that Northeast Ohio was not the best market for the geology degree she earned in the mountains of North Carolina. Once again, she visited the nearest college — LCCC — to explore options for a degree better suited for the local job market. After reviewing her resume, an LCCC adviser suggested she might be interested in MEMS, an industry expected to reach $26.8 billion by 2022.

“I didn’t even know what that was, but I went to the info session and then I got excited,” she says. “I love working with my hands and making useful things, and the MEMS program is made for people who have a need to create, just like me.”

Setting an example

Grimm’s natural passion fueled her to the top of her class — where she maintained a 4.0 GPA through the entire MEMS program.

“Sarah isn’t just an outstanding student; she’s a natural leader among her peers,” says Johnny Vanderford, assistant professor and director of the Microelectronics Institute at LCCC. “Not only was she able to use her skills on class assignments, labs and on-site internships, she inspired and showed others how to apply the skills she practiced.”

Johnny Vanderford teaching a MEMS class
Johnny Vanderford teaching a MEMS class

Grimm worked closely with Vanderford to establish the LCCC Student Chapter of the Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA), a trade organization dedicated to electronics engineering and manufacturing professionals. She served as the founding president in fall 2017, advocating for student involvement in the industry.

In 2017, the Society of Women Engineers at LCCC presented her with the MEMS Outstanding Student Award in recognition of her dedication.

“When I received the award, I was at a super-busy point in my life juggling college, trying to keep my 4.0 GPA and making sure my family had my attention,” she says. “It was nice to be recognized after trying so hard to be a success wherever I could.”

Earn and learn

The MEMS program gave Grimm valuable hands-on work experience through two internships that helped her land a full-time job in the field, before she even graduated.

“Sarah, like every MEMS student, is required to get a paid internship to receive her degree,” Vanderford says. “In our earn and learn model, students work two or three days a week and attend class two or three days a week. This work-based learning requirement has resulted in a 100 percent job placement rate.”

Grimm’s first internship was at IEC Infrared Systems in Middleburg Heights, where she assembled and tested thermal camera systems used on rapid-fire artillery equipment. Her second was at SMART Microsystems on LCCC’s campus, where she worked in a Class 1000 cleanroom making MEMS sensors. This on-the-job experience made her instantly marketable.

“She has skills that translate well to companies, because the program trains students with the knowledge and skills it takes to get a job in this industry,” Vanderford says. “We tailor the program to meet companies’ needs, so we can fill their pipeline with a talented workforce.”

Leveraging the skills and experience she gained at LCCC, Grimm landed a job at ScottCare Cardiovascular Solutions in January 2018 — several months before she graduated from the MEMS program with her associate degree in May.

“I’m using the knowledge gained from the classes I’ve taken at LCCC, from technical writing and troubleshooting to lab and electrical work,” says Grimm, who performs electronic assembly for the medical devices that ScottCare manufactures. “LCCC gave me the skills I needed to succeed in this field.”