Alumni Q&A: How Angela Steffen Meyer ’83 ’85 ’87 Reinvented Herself Throughout Her Career

From forensic engineer to CEO and owner of a strategic business development consultancy, the commencement speaker addressing SMU Lyle’s class of 2024 knows the importance of continuous learning and improvement

Angela Steffen Meyer

Dr. Angela Steffen Meyer has an eclectic resume.

She has been CEO of a legal association, a technical consultant, a board member, a business generator, and an officer and director of publicly traded companies. She’s been a forensic engineer investigating accidents in the government and private sectors, getting to the bottom of how cracks grow in materials and why things break. She’s worked  on aircraft investigations for the Canadian Department of National Defense.

She’s done analyses related to the sinking of the Titanic, James Dean’s fatal car accident and John F. Kennedy’s assassination for television shows or mock trials. “I love that no accident is the same,” she said.

At this year’s SMU Lyle commencement, she has a powerful message for graduates:

“Never stop learning,” she said. “If you’re not continuously improving yourself, you’ll fall way behind. This is just the beginning, not the end.”

Dr. Steffen Meyer is an “SMU lifer,” she says. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1983, her master’s in 1985 and her Ph.D. in 1987, all in mechanical engineering. Ahead of her commencement speech for Spring 2024 graduation, Latest at Lyle caught up with her to talk about her time at SMU, her advice for students and her fascinating career.

How has SMU Lyle changed?

Lyle is a very different place than it was when I attended. I would love to be a student there now. I’m very impressed with how they’ve changed over the years – they’ve really put themselves on the map.

I’m also glad to see more women at Lyle. My graduating class was less than 10% female. In the early ‘80s, you were kind of an odd duck if you were a woman in engineering. My twin sister and I were very active in engineering life at SMU. When I was working on my master’s degree, I helped sell SMU Lyle and recruit more women to the school.

Your best memory from SMU?

My twin sister and I both studied mechanical engineering, and we became very good friends with many of the international students from the Middle East and South America. When we spent time with them, we learned so much about the world and food and culture. We also went to every football game – we were ranked #2 at the time! It was a great four years.

Were you in any clubs, sports, or organizations?

I was an officer in the Engineering School Student Senate and was a member of the  American Society of Mechanical Engineers student chapter and Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honorary society.

What advice do you have for students?

Build a network. Understand that you’re not necessarily the smartest person in the room. Surround yourself with smart people that you can learn from and who can help you. 

What about advice for your younger self?

You wouldn’t guess this about me, but I have huge imposter syndrome. It’s quite real and can take a toll on your ability to survive in business. I would say, “Believe in yourself.”

Most interesting job since college?

I’ve done some really interesting things that I never thought I would do. I’ve been very lucky. I worked on litigation involving rollovers with SUVs. I worked on the GM fuel tank fires investigation. I did a reconstruction of James Dean’s car crash for an NBC TV show. I’ve been interviewed by CNN and The Wall Street Journal. I’ve been on The History Channel and The Learning Channel.

But working for one of the largest forensic engineering companies, Failure Analysis Associates, Inc. (now known as Exponent), was by far the hardest and most fun job I’ve ever had. It’s an engineering and scientific consulting firm that investigates the causes of accidents and failures. Once I got into business development and marketing, that became really fun, because I got to use my technical chops to sell services to people. 

If you weren't an engineer, what would you do instead?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a choreographer. That was my dream. However, I’ve learned that technical sales is theater meeting science. I use my communication skills and technical skills to do something that I love. 

Describe yourself in three words.

Service-oriented, hard-working, and thoughtful. 

Favorite Dallas restaurant?

When I was a student, there used to be a Tex-Mex restaurant called Raphael’s where my sister and I would meet our parents for dinner every Friday night. We always had the same server, Armando, and I would order puff tacos and cheese enchiladas. Today, though, my answer would be Wok Star Chinese on Walnut Hill. 

What superpower would you want?

I am a big fan of X-Men. I love science fiction. My favorite character is Marvel Girl Jean Grey because she’s a strong woman and has telepathic and telekinetic powers. 

How do you cope with stress?

Exercise whenever possible. My mom says I’m like a wound-up toy – I’m always stressed. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My son, Nicolas. I have a thoughtful, good-natured, self-sufficient 27-year-old son. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have family, what do you have?

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About the Bobby Lyle School of Engineering
SMU's Lyle School of Engineering thrives on innovation that transcends traditional boundaries. We strongly believe in the power of externally funded, industry-supported research to drive progress and provide exceptional students with valuable industry insights. Our mission is to lead the way in digital transformation within engineering education, all while ensuring that every student graduates as a confident leader. Founded in 1925, SMU Lyle is one of the oldest engineering schools in the Southwest, offering undergraduate and graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees.

About SMU
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, community and the world.