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Ali Sullivan: Ahead of the field

Former soccer student-athlete continues to kick her career up a notch

Ali Sullivan has always aimed for the top. A soccer star and academic standout at Iowa State University from 1997-2001, she’s now helping others reach new heights through her work as an industrial engineering senior manager at Boeing on the commercial aircraft side of the house.

Born in American Samoa and raised in Encinitas, California, sports were a constant for Ali, her two sisters and her brother.  Her father, an operations executive in the seafood industry, and her mother, a homemaker, encouraged both academics and athletics among their children.  This dual emphasis took root in Ali from an early age and she has benefitted ever since.

Spending just about every free moment of her childhood participating in one outdoor activity or another, Ali’s first brush with soccer came at the age of four.  She also participated in organized basketball and softball leagues.

“I began playing soccer at such a young age. I don’t really know my life without the sport,” she said.

In her youth, it was the physical aspect that she loved the most.  But as she matured, she started appreciating the team and mental aspects of the sport.  Eventually, she came to realize as physically taxing as the game is, it takes strategic thinking and selflessness in order to be successful.

“It’s a game that truly requires you to leave it all on the field,” is how she describes it now.

She eventually mastered the game to the point where she still holds four top-ten positions on the Cyclones record list: career game-winning goals, career assists, career games played and career shots. Between all those highlights on the pitch, she still found time for the books graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in production and operations management.

Following her very successful college experience, Ali landed a full-time position as a manufacturing engineering planner for Boeing. That position placed her at the company’s satellite development center in Los Angeles, where she translated engineering drawings into step-by-step build instructions for small assembly satellite components.

“I learned intellectual challenges in the work environment can be very satisfying if you’re willing to go above and beyond standard expectations,” she says.

A number of progressive roles at the development center followed, culminating with a move to San Antonio to launch a career in leadership as an industrial engineering manager. While in the River City, she was promoted into a senior management role and had the opportunity to work on a number of unique programs.

Amy Sullivan, Iowa State University

Well established and on her way up the corporate ladder, Ali is now in the Seattle area working as a senior industrial engineering manager for Boeing.

Recently she returned to Iowa State representing her employer to take part in an engineering career fair – the same campus opportunity that she was recruited from during her senior year.

When Ali thinks back on her days as a student-athlete, she fondly recalls a truly unique experience.

“There’s an unparalleled camaraderie amongst the team and with other athletes that lasts beyond college,” she said. “I found the experience to be very challenging — physically, mentally and emotionally at times, but the rewards always far outweighed the effort.”

The biggest lesson she learned as a student-athlete that still resonates strongly today is the importance of never giving up.

“In one game, we were losing to Mizzou 3-0 at halftime,” she recalls. “By the end of the game, we managed to come back and win 4-3. In the working world, I’ve frequently faced situations where there didn’t appear to be any viable solutions. But by changing perspectives and working together with a strong team, I’ve managed to solve many complex problems that seemed insurmountable.”

A believer in planning for the future but living in the moment, Ali shows no signs of slowing down on her professional journey.

“Simply put, success is winning,” she says. “Being successful means pursuing challenging goals and objectives and ultimately conquering them.”


Ali Sullivan
Senior manager in industrial engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Hometown: Encinitas, California

Current city: Seattle, Washington

School: Bachelor of Science degree in production and operations management, Iowa State University in 2001; master’s in business administration from University of Southern California in 2007

Sport: Women’s Soccer

Fun fact: Growing up a few miles from a southern California beach, Ali and her family raised pigs. She’d surf in the mornings and help with the pig farm in the afternoons.