Impacting Lives with STEM: Morgan L.

Impacting Lives with STEM:
With Morgan L., junior Biology major and Psychology minor

Morgan is a junior in college with a passion for Women’s Health. She’s majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology, on a premed track. Not only is Morgan passionate about science and research, but she also loves working with people – both throughout her research and with patients in clinical settings. She uses her STEM field to make connections with others and help people through the things they may be struggling with.

Morgan has known she was interested in medicine since middle school. In seventh grade she took her first biology class and also started watching Grey’s Anatomy that same year. She says,

“The show is incredibly unrealistic but seeing how doctors used the science I love to impact the lives of others was something I found beautiful. I started reading lots of books on biology topics, including The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (which I have read 3 times! Great book!), and books about genetics. It really ignited a passion for medicine in me, which I kept exploring in high school. I took a 3 year scientific research elective at my high school, and had the opportunity to spend 2 summers conducting research looking at the Neuroscience behind motor deficits in Huntington’s disease. This experience taught me so much about the scientific method and seeing the connection between research and medicine.”

For Morgan, her passion started in middle and high school, but she’s continued to feed it throughout college.

“Two of my most inspiring experiences have been my externships with a Fertility Doctor and a Gynecology surgeon. With the fertility doctor I got to see a mom who had been struggling with IVF* have an 8 week ultrasound, and with the gynecology surgeon I got to go in the OR and see surgery up close and personal. Observing these clinicians in action, and seeing their grateful patients, really showed me just how much of an impact physicians can have on their patients.

These experiences have shown her that she can use her passion for science to make a difference in people’s lives. This is such an exciting lesson, because studies have shown that one of the main reasons girls veer away from STEM fields is that they want more social careers or want to do something that they can see how it makes a difference in the world. All careers have the potential to help people, but Morgan was able to personally discover this impact in a unique way through her externships and research experiences.

Even as an undergraduate student, she’s already started to touch lives. She writes, “My favorite learning experience outside the classroom was last summer while working on my research at the Women’s Health Institute at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. I worked on the Transgender Health Initiative creating a video about Fertility Preservation for Transgender Patients and piloting videos with patients, and designed my own study looking the corporate climate on fertility preservation. I spent hours and hours reading about transgender health, fertility preservation, corporate benefits and more, and loved every minute of it. It reminded me why I am so passionate about fertility medicine and left me so much more knowledgeable than when I started. What inspired me was interacting with trans patients at the clinic and talking to members of the Transgender community about the projects I was working on.”

In class, she’s also learned new ways medicine will continue to impact people in the future. “My favorite learning experience at Lafayette has to be my Precision Medicine course I took last fall. I love Genetics and learning about the applications of genetics in medicine was incredible. I loved reading clinical trials, talking about ethics and patient care, and seeing how much of an impact genetics will have on the future of healthcare.”

She finds that so many people have stories to share about medical technology and their own personal experiences. Doctors and researchers have really touched families’ lives in a variety of ways. Morgan finds motivation in these amazing stories. “Since so many friends, family, and acquaintances know about my interest in medicine and women’s health specifically, I constantly have people telling me about advances in healthcare and things about their own healthcare experiences. On this journey I have realized that yes I love science, and that is what got me to explore medicine in the first place, but I am an extroverted people person and am invigorated by the idea of combining the science I love with building relationships with patients.

She also know it’s okay if things don’t go perfectly immediately. She writes, It amazes me how much things that seemed like failures when they happened actually have led me to some of my greatest opportunities. I got rejected from tons of summer internships both the summers after my freshman and sophomore years. If this had never happened, I would never have gotten to spend the summer after my freshman year working with a Radiation Oncologist (and get my research published in the Journal of Neuro-Oncology), or the summer after my sophomore year doing research at the Women’s Health Institute at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. You have to trust that it will work out, because it usually does!!”

Morgan is dedicated to pursuing her dreams, and she knows what will help her personally get there. Because of this, she makes an effort to herself feel strong and healthy every day. “Staying on top of everything really makes me feel like I can conquer my day.  I enjoy starting my day reading the stream of healthcare news in my twitter feed.  I also think staying healthy is super important and make an effort to eat well and go to the gym (endorphins!).  Staying happy and healthy and finding inspiration in my everyday life is key. If I ever need a burst of inspiration I will also read doctor memoirs (my life goal is to write a memoir about being a fertility doctor!).” She focuses on feeling strong and setting herself up for success – both in her healthy actions like getting exercise and how she thinks. I love how she starts her morning with something she’s excited about and continues to find those moments of inspiration throughout the day.
I have no doubt that Morgan is going to go on to change lives and have an amazing career that we’ll all be hearing about. (I cannot wait to read that memoir someday!!) Morgan hopes that more women will also be able to follow their passions, like she is. She writes that, It’s getting better, but I wish that women today knew that they should not be afraid to chase their passions. Many women are intimated by the idea of balancing a career and family. I feel lucky to have my mother as a strong female role model who balances a corporate career and family extremely well, in addition to conducting research with two strong empowered female physicians. I wish more women had a role model or mentor to inspire them, because I feel lucky to have both. That kind of support system and encouragement is crucial.”

We’re so grateful to Morgan for being one of those role models for our program!  If you’d like to learn more about careers in medicine, check out letters from other role models like Alyssa Cole here. You might also be interested in the letters from infection specialists and virologists!

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

Discussion Questions:
Has a book or movie ever inspired you? What were you inspired by?
What makes a woman inspirational?
If you could try out any career in the world, like during an externship, what would it be?

* = IVF is In Vitro Fertilization – a medical procedure that is sometimes used when parents want to have a baby but may not have been able to without the help of a doctor

 

Advertisements

 Challenging Yourself to Mastery Experiences: Rachel T.

Challenging Yourself to Mastery Experiences:
With Rachel T., senior Chemical Engineering major

As a senior majoring in chemical engineering, Rachel throws herself into challenging experiences. She isn’t afraid to get involved and to try new things. Whether it’s summer programs or an honors thesis, she’s sought out opportunities to learn and grow.
Rachel is an excellent role model for seeking out Mastery Experiences. Mastery Experiences are hands-on ways of learning that you’re incredibly capable at a task or subject. Solving a hard puzzle, doing well at the science fair, or challenging yourself in a summer camp program can all be Mastery Experiences. If you succeed at a challenging project or do something that you were a little nervous about, this helps you to realize you can do it. It makes you feel smarter, stronger, braver, and ready to take on more challenges. These experiences are the best way to increase self-efficacy, which is your belief about your own competence. Role models and encouraging words help, but doing it yourself will really give you that feeling of being capable.

Rachel started these opportunities when she was little. She writes,
“I got to participate in STEM summer programs throughout elementary and middle school. This gave me a lot of confidence in my STEM abilities. As I got older, I got more involved by taking high school electives in science, engineering, and math. I even had opportunities to volunteer at children’s summer camps and STEM expositions just like the ones I went to! Throughout my primary education, I fell more and more in love with engineering. As my confidence grew through practice, so did my passion.

Rachel did STEM programs like you do by participating in Curiosity! These programs set up an environment where you can be challenged, but you also learn that it’s okay to mess up. We learn from mistakes, too.

For Rachel, she’s been able to turn a project that didn’t seem like it was working to a model that we can learn from, noting that often, learning what doesn’t work is as important as learning what does.

She has been spending the whole year on this research. All of last semester, she says she was “looking at using insoluble salts to recover nutrients from wastewater…” to use these nutrients as fertilizer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working. She adds,“The entire semester, I designed and conducted experiment after experiment, and every method failed! It was really discouraging to work so hard and have no major progress.”

However, she was able to learn from what wasn’t successful, “Now, my research is moving in a new and very promising direction. My research group has been selected to present at multiple professional and academic conferences, which just goes to show that success can be found even in failure!”

This progress is so exciting, and Rachel has started to love talking about her amazing accomplishments in research. It’s amazing to be able to share something she worked so hard on and is making such a difference. She adds, “I feel strong whenever I am talking about my research. I love to tell other people how exciting innovative wastewater treatment is. Being an expert on a topic I’m passionate about and sharing my ideas with others makes me feel like Wonder Woman My research, specifically, is making a difference because it addresses major issues of environmental sustainability. For example, using nutrients recovered from wastewater as fertilizer helps reduce nutrient pollution, which harms ecosystems in surface water bodies like lakes and streams.”

Developing this confidence and persistence took some practice, though. We need to have experiences where we’re challenged, in order to learn that we can handle challenges and that our ideas are amazing and important. A lot of people struggle with this when they get to college or have to handle a level of difficulty that they’re not used to. It’s easy to doubt yourself or wonder if you’ll be able to keep up.  Luckily, these concerns are totally normal and can be overcome by continuing to take on healthy challenges and not being afraid to ask for support to help you succeed. Since I’ve met Rachel, I’ve always seen her as put-together, bright, funny, and ready to change the world. But it’s important to know that even she has had to learn how capable she is. She had to seek those mastery experiences and overcome challenges, too.
She says, “When I first came to college, I wasn’t confident in my own ability to generate important ideas or communicate them effectively. I felt like an imposter who was not technically skilled enough to speak with authority on STEM topics. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I have learned a lot about my capabilities as a researcher and gained confidence through experience. In my classes, I’ve been required to contribute to complex projects as a member of a team, write technical papers on independent analyses, and give countless oral presentations. I’ve had amazing opportunities to present my research at local, regional, and national conferences, in both poster presentations and even in lecture format. I have learned that asking questions is not evidence of weakness or lack of intellect; pursuing knowledge by asking questions shows strength, and “I don’t know, but I can find out” is usually a perfectly acceptable answer when I actually don’t know!”

Now, she’s able to look back on these challenges and gain motivation from them. She says, “I stay motivated by reminding myself how hard I have worked to become the student I am today and that every experience, struggle, or difficult homework problem has value and contributes to a career I’m passionate about. Reminding myself why I am studying engineering energizes me and gets me through difficult times.”

Today, Rachel is getting ready to graduate and looking forward to furthering her education.

“I’m planning to go to graduate school next fall to pursue a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering. I realized that I want to earn a Ph.D. as a college student when I fell in love with conducting research: I enjoy designing experiments and working with my hands and getting dirty! These experiences inspired me to pursue a career in research. I might become a professor someday or work in research at a company, but I’m not sure yet. Once I realized what I like to do, I asked some of my own mentors, such as professors and other engineers, what steps I might consider taking in order to achieve my goals. Getting feedback and ideas from people who have been in these shoes before was really inspirational and useful at identifying specific actions I could take to tailor my career path to my interests.”

As she moves forward in her own future, she also continues to think about what she hopes for the future of women in STEM.

“When I tell people I’m an engineering student, their eyes widen and they compliment me for my intelligence, being a woman in STEM, or how social I am “for an engineer.” This feels a little ridiculous. To me, I’m just a regular student who works hard, is excited about her work, and wants to make the world a better place. STEM might literally involve rocket science, but it’s not an unattainable goal or some mysterious alternate universe. I wish society in general saw women as fully-capable of attaining their goals, including success in STEM, rather than as outliers who contradict what society thinks an engineer “should” be.”

Rachel is a dedicated student and also loves taking opportunities to mentor younger students – from elementary schoolers up through her peers in college. She says, “I hope that I can help show younger girls that they are capable, that they can grow up to be whoever they want, and how to gain the confidence to be themselves.” Thank you so much for sharing that inspiration with our students, Rachel!

If you’d like to learn more about engineers, check out the letters on our Role Models page! We have eight engineers featured from around the world and in many different disciplines.

IMG_2294

 

Discussion Questions:
What was something challenging you’ve tried?
Why is it important to feel like you can succeed at challenging tasks?
How does asking questions show strength? Why is it important?

Thinking Creatively and Making a Difference: Simone K.

Thinking Creatively and Making a Difference:
With Simone K., Electrical and Computer Engineering and Studio Art Major

Simone is a sophomore majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Studio Art. She’s a scientist, an artist, and an inventor, and she uses her unique creativity and problem-solving techniques every day.

Recently, Simone joined a research team to improve wheelchair technology. She says,

“Under the guidance of Professor Yu and Professor Gabel, students have been researching brain computer interfaces and their possible uses in the medical field. In the past two years, we’ve been working on a wheelchair that can be moved by using brain signals. This is especially effective for patients who can’t necessarily move their hands to operate a regular wheelchair. My specific role in this project was to create a graphical user interface that will be used to calibrate the wheelchair to the specific user’s settings. In other words, I designed a user-friendly process that will be used in preliminary steps to operating a BCI wheelchair.”

Simone was recently featured in this awesome video that explains the process a little more!

 

 

Simone says that a high school class in computer science originally sparked her interest. “I just loved how we had to think. Rather than solving a problem by getting from point a to point b, we had to thoroughly consider the implementation of each and every step. My interests eventually expanded to computer engineering because I am a very hands-on person and wanted to explore the construction of hardware in addition to software.” 

Now, in college, she has had more opportunities to explore this method of thinking in a new way. “Computer science and engineering is full of complex thinking. I loved learning the algorithms for objectives that seemed so simple. For example, in a college course, we learned multiple sorting algorithms. When you’re sorting numbers from least to greatest, you kind of just do it. When telling a computer to do that, however, there needs to be a more intricate process. We learned about different algorithms that, in the end, had the same results, but some were more much more effective than others. It’s so worthwhile to really stop and think about all the steps that you take in your head when translating them to a computer.” 

Not only is STEM helping Simone to change people’s lives and give people new forms of independence, it’s also helping her to think differently. (You might remember how this was true for one of our other writers, Kamal, too!) Simone is constantly challenging herself to do really hard things and solve problems that don’t have clear answers. Of course, when we try challenging things, we don’t always succeed on the first try. But Simone notes, “I am grateful for each and every mess up for teaching and strengthening me.” She learns from each thing that doesn’t work. Whether she’s trying to solve a global problem or learning the best way to study or do her homework, sometimes she makes mistakes, but those mistakes allow her to find out what doesn’t work and why. That’s valuable information. It helps us to do better the next time.
Simone shares a great example of learning from her mistakes. She writes,

“Before entering my very first computer science class, I was given materials to study over the summer. My class was going to be given an exam on the first day of class, and if we passed, we would remain in the class, but if we failed we wouldn’t be able to take it. I’m the type of person who likes to get work finished early, and so I ended up studying all of the material the first few weeks of summer vacation. By the time that summer was ending, I got lazy and I didn’t review the material again. I didn’t end up failing the exam, but I was very close. I was so ashamed by my performance, but that pushed me to prove to my teacher that I could do much better. For the rest of the school year, I worked so hard to prove what I was capable of, and it paid off.”

Simone learned how to study better, adding that, for her, environment is a big factor. Even when she has been assigned homework that is intimidating and she feels like she has no idea how to do it, she can set herself up for success by making good choices about where she works and how she thinks about her work. “I have learned that being surrounded by positivity and positive thinking helps me approach my work with a clear mind. Surroundings can be everything sometimes, and when I don’t have control over how much work I have, I can place myself in an environment where I know I will at least work effectively.” She limits outside stressors and negative distractions, and practices thinking positively. (Need study tips? Good news. There’s a new post coming soon.)

Simone adds that she’s made many mistakes, and I think that she’s not afraid of these mistakes because she knows they’re helping her meet her goal. She explains, “I am constantly motivated by my drive to learn more and more.” As someone who did not come into her major with a lot of prior knowledge about computers, “I like to push myself to keep up with everything that we learn so that I may someday use that knowledge to create something entirely of my own invention.”

With all of these challenges, Simone shares how she persists and stays motivated. Like many of our other writers have shared, Simone shows the idea that communities have power. They shape us, support us, and mentor us, so finding those people who will help you to become the strong, smart woman you want to be is valuable. She writes,

“One of the most worthwhile decisions I made in college was joining a club called women in computing. In my experiences in the club, I have met some of the strongest and most inspiring women. We talk about our struggles in the stem field, but with that, we support one another. Inside and outside of the club, I always know that I can depend on the women in computing, and that definitely empowers me. It’s a really good feeling to know that there are others in the same position as you who are willing to help.” They help her to feel strong.

We’re excited to see where Simone goes! Right now, she’s still deciding what her career will look like. People rarely do just one thing their entire life, and we all have so many different interests. Currently, she’s deciding how she’ll balance those passions. She says, “For now, I’m focused on my learning and growing as a computer engineer. I hope to work even harder and really narrow my interests. I guess my long-term goal is about finding myself. With a double major in two areas that are completely different, I’d like to find a way to combine my interests to find something that I really love,” while thinking about where she thrives and what she wants to get better at. She enjoys the strong community of women in STEM that she is a member of and encourages everyone to pursue their interests. She also adds that women should be “full acknowledged for their ideas” and wants to see that recognition continue to grow.

 

Discussion Questions:
What environment do you study best in?

How does technology impact your life?

Can you think of a time where thinking about a problem differently helped you to solve it?

If you could invent anything, what would you create or what problem would your creation solve?

Goal Orientations and Motivation: Rachel P.

Goal Orientations and Motivation:
With Rachel P., Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics major

Rachel P. was on our initial team for testing lab activities for Curiosity Science Program. She’s a double-STEM major, a poetry-lover, and an actress in college theatre.

Rachel is a sophomore, studying Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. Molecular Genetics involves studying the genes that make up who we are at a molecular level. This helps us understand what gives each of us the traits we have and better explain genetic variation. Genetic variation can include everything from why your hair is a different color than your sister’s to how chromosomal differences like Down Syndrome occur.

(Want to learn about DNA and cells? Try this video or this one by Bill Nye.)

Rachel became interested in these fields during her first organic chemistry class. She says she felt that,

“It made a lot of sense to me. I have always been very numbers driven, but to my surprise, I enjoyed and understood organic chemistry much more than analytical chemistry.”

For Rachel, infectious diseases are especially interesting.

“Recently, I learned all about how the immune system responds to pathogens in varying degrees of specificity. It is what has convinced me that working with infectious diseases is what I want to spend my life doing.”

Often when we learn, it’s easy to focus on comparisons and thinking about how we’re doing in relation to other people. Sometimes, we focus too hard on looking good in front of our friends or not making mistakes. Rachel has a different attitude in how she views her motivation. She says she’s motivated by “Asking questions. The more there is that I want to know, the more eager I am to find the answer.

By thinking about learning in this way, Rachel is demonstrating what is called a Mastery Goal Orientation. This is a type of motivation that is more internal, not based on what other people think or any external praise. You’re only competing with yourself, and you’re motivated by wanting to understand the subject and become as good at it as you can. For people with Mastery Goal Orientations, challenges are motivating and exciting – because you’ll get to improve and learn something new. You don’t learn as much by doing easy tasks; you learn through being challenged and having to work hard to figure out the answer. When you’re challenged, you’re discovering the answers to questions that interest you. This perspective is so much better for learning than a Performance Goal Orientation, where the fear of failure or desire for easy praise stops you from trying something challenging. Mastery Goal Orientations are also associated with higher achievement in classes than Performance Goal Orientations.

Rachel was inspired by an experience that allowed her to challenge herself and learn more. She says that for her, her moment of inspiration is easy to place.

“Undoubtedly, it would be performing microbe identification tests as a major project in my microbiology lab. The function of the project is to allow you to identify two unknown microbes utilizing the tests that we had learned over the course of the semester. It is entirely self-directed, and feels like working in an actual research laboratory, and generally was a welcoming environment that I continually wish to be a part of.” 

In this example, Rachel went after challenges and wanted to learn more. She was answering questions she had created for herself and enjoyed having to figure out difficult problems. Still, it’s possible to be really great at having a Mastery Goal Orientation sometimes, and to mess up and focus too much on how people will view you other times. Rachel learned this when she was struggling in a class. She says that,

“…the biggest mistake I’ve made so far is letting my chemistry grade slip, simply because I was too afraid to ask questions and seek out the help I needed. It has frequently been one of my weaknesses, but I let my lack of understanding and fear of being viewed as stupid compound into disaster.”

When we pay attention to how we think others will view us, we forget about our own goals. We let other people’s potential opinions matter more than our own learning. Realistically, though, everyone messes up. There’s no shame in making mistakes. It’s how progress happens and how some of the yummiest inventions (popsicles and chocolate chip cookies, anyone?) were created. Mistakes also gave us Penicillin – a vital antibiotic – and pacemakers. These inventions save lives every day, and they never would have happened if their inventors were scared to make mistakes.

For Rachel, making mistakes and facing challenges becomes easier because of the inspiration she finds in others and in her passion for her field. She says that,

Being around the people I love and doing the things I love makes me feel strong. It’s always empowering to feel like I’m doing the right thing and not being afraid to be myself.”

Finally, she adds her own request for women today. Not only for those in STEM, but for women in all roles in society, she says,

“I would ask for my voice. There are plenty of times that I know what to do or I know the answer to a question, but I’m often overlooked or ignored. I want all women to be able to speak out, not just when they know the answer, but also when they wish to stand up for what they believe in. The things they have to say are important, and should be treated as such.”

 rachel

 

We’re proud of all of our students for finding their voices and discovering their passions. We hope you share them loudly and boldly with the world.

 

Thank you for your answers, Rachel! If you’d like to learn more about careers involving infectious diseases, check out the letters from Lynda Caine, Patti Caine, and Susana López on our role model page. We also have letters from physicians and chemists which may be applicable to your interests!

 

Discussion Questions:
What was a time you failed at something? (While you were learning to ride a bike, doing a new type of math for the first time, learning to read, tying your shoes, learning to ski, etc.) How did that experience help you to do better the next time?

Where do you feel confident speaking up? Why?

What questions do you want to discover the answers to?

Persisting and Asking for Help: Mae-Lynn H.

Persisting and Asking for Help:
With Mae-Lynn H., Chemical Engineering major

Mae-Lynn is a sophomore, studying Chemical Engineering. She says that in high school, she really didn’t know what chemical engineering was. It was only when her dad sat down with her and went through a list of majors that her university offered that she discovered this interest. Mae-Lynn once told me that,

“I decided to major in chemical engineering last year because I wanted to make hairspray. I didn’t realize that involved science.”

You never know what will inspire you! From that point of inspiration, her passion has grown and she’s found more ways that chemical engineering improves and even saves lives. She says that,

“My dad always encouraged me to look into science and engineering fields, so I did. And I took an Intro to Chemical Engineering class and really liked it. I knew that I could use this degree in ways that would be beneficial to other people, so I guess that inspired me to keep working so I could do that in the end.”

mae-lynn

Mae-Lynn is a fiercely independent young woman. For her, one of her hardest lessons was learning that it’s okay to ask for help. You don’t have to do things alone, in order to do them successfully. She says that

I have learned that I am capable of so much if I keep on trying and never give up until I’ve accomplished what I want. I learn the most when I get a problem wrong and can find my mistake and get the right answer myself, but I’ve also learned that it’s okay to need to lean on other people for help and support sometimes, even if I like to do things by myself.”

Sometimes we have to learn from our mistakes to make progress. Mae-Lynn remembers feeling really frustrated during her first chemical engineering course.

“A lot of my homework assignments for my Intro to Chemical Engineering class were difficult. The first time I went to the TA help lab to check my answers, I got them all wrong and almost cried but … I knew that I could figure out what I was doing wrong, so I kept looking at examples in the textbook and asking my peers in the lab for help. Eventually, after a good amount of time, I was able to solve all the problems I got wrong and understand the concepts better because I decided to keep trying and not let failure stop me.”

 

Fortunately, she decided to persist through the challenge and ask for help. She didn’t get it immediately, but this doesn’t mean she’s not a talented engineer or won’t be successful. It just means she needed to put in some extra effort. Hard work is essential to success. For Mae-Lynn, she knows that asking for help and using her resources to find the support she needs is part of the accomplishment. She feels motivated “knowing that one day, I can be able to make a difference in the world because of all the hard work I am doing now” and “knowing that when I work hard and ask for help when I need it, I can accomplish all that I’ve set out to do. And then obviously seeing the results of my hard work” is also encouraging.

Mae-Lynn encourages all students to remember that gender and other differences shouldn’t make a difference in how we perceive each other or our abilities.

“What does matter is the way we treat each other, regardless of our differences. Although I haven’t taken very many engineering classes yet, what I have found is that we all excel at some things, and we all struggle at some things. When we use our strengths to help other people that may not be as strong in that area yet and vice versa, we are all benefited. I’ve seen that a lot in my classes. We’re all in this together and we all want to be successful, so why not help each other in the process?”

For Mae-Lynn, she was able to ask for help from her peers and teaching assistant. Study sessions and review activities are a great resource. There are lots of ways to get help such as asking more questions in class, staying in class after school or during lunch, or contacting a teacher through email to tell them if you need to schedule a time to get help. The most important part is you ask if you need assistance. Sometimes, a friend or teacher can teach us a new way of studying or explain a concept in a way we hadn’t seen it before. Other times, we can be that friend for someone else. Mae-Lynn has played both roles throughout her academic career, and I know she’s benefited from help and others have benefited from hers.

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Mae-Lynn! If you’d like to read more about professionals in engineering careers, check out our role model page.

 

Discussion starters:
What are you good at helping a friend with?
What challenges have you persisted through? What was hard to learn?
What are your strengths? Name a strength of your friends in the room.

Persistence and Passion for Learning: Srishti S.

Persistence and Passion for Learning:
With Srishti S., Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology double-major

 

Although she’s a sophomore at University of Connecticut now, Srishti’s interest in STEM started young. In elementary school, she became fascinated by sea creatures and reptiles. She says,

 

In elementary school, we had two in-school field trips, an Ocean Day and a Reptile Day. Each time, a biologist brought in organisms that corresponded with the theme. I was simply fascinated with these creatures that were so foreign to me as a second grader that I spent the years up until middle school saying I wanted to be a marine biologist.”

 

Eventually, her interests changed a little and expanded greatly, as they frequently do when we’re growing up.
“…Anthropology came to me in one of my frequent trips to the Museum of Science in Boston. I had naturally always gravitated towards the Green Wing of the museum which encompassed all things biology. Within the Green Wing, I found myself further fascinated by the Hall of Human Life. Standing in this exhibit hall as a 6th grader, I remember staring at three skeletons in glass cases representative of our human ancestors. A museum researcher, who had noticed my fascination, engaged me further with his knowledge of human bones. Finally, in the summer before my junior year of high school, I read a book that truly changed my life. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, chronicles the author’s personal experience with a remote tribe in the canyons of Mexico who, as he concluded, had an acute understanding of life. The human experience and our relation to the natural world, as I discovered as the field of anthropology and human biology, was something I have been seeking to understand since.”

 

Today Srishti is double-majoring, studying both Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology. Currently, she’s also doing research in the Zooarchaeology Lab for her senior honors thesis. These are unique fields that allow her to follow her passions, as well as make a difference. Srishti explains this side of her interests best,

 

“Combining biology and anthropology has made me appreciate STEM in a humanities context. Both fields teach what it means to be human, how that meaning has so many variations throughout the world, and how we are so deeply connected to the natural world. It is easy to forget that humans are very much a part of the natural order of things, and we are in no way exempt from the laws of nature. This perspective is especially crucial in today’s world, where society is complex, technology is abounding, globalization is occurring, and we as humans know have the ability to alter this planet in any way we choose. One way my STEM work makes a difference is through the study of climate change. Another crucial way is in the accurate, respectful representation of native peoples throughout the world, through which we can gain new cultural perspectives on the meaning of life.”

 

 

One of my favorite things about Srishti is that she is constantly seeking to learn and understand. I admire the way that she always wants to learn more and is willing to try new things. She’s curious about the world around her. Sometimes when we’re growing up, we think that adults know everything or that if we’re really good at something, we know everything about it. That’s not true, though. People who are really good at their subject area are the people who are always ready to learn more.

 

Sometimes it feels frustrating when we don’t understand a problem or subject area immediately. Often, we think that if we can’t do the math problem on our first try or if the word is hard too hard, it means we’re not good at it. We start to think we’re not smart enough. Srishti reminds me that sometimes we have to work hard at new things, though. It’s also never too late to learn something new.

 

In fact, just a couple of years ago – after graduating high school – Srishti tried horseback riding.

 

“For as long as I can remember, I have loved horses, and I was the horse girl who did not actually ride horses. As I got older, I figured that I would never have the opportunity to indulge my childhood dream. Finally, for my high school graduation gift, I asked my parents for horseback riding lessons. I knew that at 18, I was an older beginner rider, and I had doubts of jumping into a brand-new experience. But I was heading to college in three months, and I took the risk of a new experience. I loved it. I loved the feeling of instability, the rush of adrenaline, and the communication between rider and horse. In the sweltering heat of summer, I once found myself pitched off by my horse, Maxine, my body landing straight into the sandy arena, rattled to the bone. But still laughing at the thrill. I was completely out of my element, and as I reflect back, I think I learned more than just horseback riding. I learned to step out of my comfort zone. I learned to take a chance and do something I knew I would love. I learned to live in the moment. And while I cannot turn back the hands of time, wishing I had started learning at an earlier age, I loved every minute of those 13 weeks.”

 

Not only did Srishti try something that she wasn’t sure she’d be good at, she also quite literally got back on the horse when she fell off. She kept trying, even when it was difficult or scary. Srishti has learned this lesson so many times, and she reminds me that it’s one adults need, too. We all have to practice persevering and be willing to learn from our experiences and the experiences of others that we admire. When Srishti was in 8th grade, her algebra teacher told her class a personal story about her own family. Mrs. Kilduff been going through a difficult time and had persevered through a custody battle. She came into class one day, holding a new $10 bill.

 

“She asked for a show of hands on who would like the 10 dollars. All hands went up. Then, she proceeded to severely crumple the bill up, throw it on the ground, and smashed the right heel of her shoe onto it. She now held up the crumpled bill, no longer clean or crisp as it had been thirty seconds ago. Again, she asked who wanted the 10 dollars.”

 

After hands went up, she continued saying,

 

“‘This is how I felt, crumpled and defeated, like the state of this 10-dollar bill,’ she motioned to the bill still in her hand. ‘No matter what you are going through, just remember this: a crumpled 10 dollars is still worth 10 dollars. Every one of you has worth, regardless of how you may feel in a moment of defeat or dejection. Always remember that.’”

 

Srishti kept this lesson with her, remembering that,

 

“She had won her custody battle, she had her daughter, she had a successful career, and she was now married to a man who loved her. I still remember sitting in that class, the tears welling in my eyes as I watched one of my favorite teachers begin to weep.”

 

All of those things were only possible for Mrs. Kilduff because she persevered! And now those lessons inspire her students. Her story reminds me that even when we don’t feel like things are going our way, we’re still valuable. Putting in extra effort or struggling doesn’t diminish that. We will always be valuable and we always have the potential to do amazing things.

 

Since she’s learned all these incredible lessons and has so many interests, what does Srishti want to do next? She’s set some fantastic goals for herself, but she’s also allowing herself flexibility because she knows that she has more opportunities on their way and she’s allowed to change her mind. Srishti says that,

 

“My immediate goals revolve around graduating with honors from UConn with my double-major degree. During the next two and a half years, I hope to make as many connections as I can with the faculty and students at my schools because I have learned that connections open the door to opportunities one may otherwise not have. At the same time, I also want to live in the moment and take in every experience with full appreciation. I have almost completed a year and a half of college in what felt like a blink of an eye, and I do not want miss the rest of my undergraduate years microplanning my future. Similarly, I seek to enjoy life, which is something I have been getting better at after spending years of middle and high school stressing about the future to the point where, looking back, it sometimes seems that I lived in a muted world, far removed from my friends and the experiences of high school. Career-wise, my ultimate long-term goal is to get a doctorate (PhD) degree and become a researcher/professor in a concentration of anthropology related to human biology, osteology (the study of human bones), archaeology, and/or religious studies. (I am also considering law school as another possible career path.) How I get there is completely open to the experiences and opportunities I may receive, and I am ready to see what the future holds!”

 

With these huge goals, it could be easy to become discouraged. Srishti knows that she’s going to have to put in a lot of work to make these things happen, but it’s worth it because she’s passionate about what she does.

 

“There are often moments when I find myself on depressing internet blogs about how anthropology is the worst mistake anyone could make, and that I am basically setting myself to live in a cardboard box behind a Walmart for the rest of my life. It’s a scary thought not knowing whether you are directing yourself for the success you truly want. And while it is easy to get stuck thinking about everything that can possibly go wrong, I have to remind myself of the passion and curiosity I felt when I first discovered anthropology and biology. I stay motivated every time I realize that everyone goes through the same uncertainty that I am feeling. I look around me to the professors in my department and know that they were once in my shoes, not knowing whether or not they could be successful in academia. I keep myself motivated by loving to learn, making connections, and staying focused on my passion for the field.

 

I love the way she focuses on her love of learning and the people who have all been down this path before. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do in the coming years, and I’m sure we’ll all be reading about her research in the news soon!

 

Finally, we asked Srishti what she’d change about being a woman in STEM and the role of women in our society in general.

 

“This is a question I have been wrangling with for some time, and the more I grapple with the state of women today, the more I find it hard to answer. On one hand, we in the United States are quite fortunate because women in some countries are still regarded as property, subjugated to domestic roles, and are denied education, the right to vote, the right to speak their minds, etc. In that respect, I feel very lucky that my situation has been quite the opposite – I have always been encouraged to speak my opinions, get a thorough education, and experience all the other freedoms this country has to offer. However, I find there are still the subtle traps which some women succumb to. These traps come in the form of how society deems a woman should act in order to be seen as a modern, successful career woman. And while this may seem an archaic, 1950s-esque notion, a woman’s role today does not just encompass a domestic role but a career role as well. Yet somehow, society thinks that on top of balancing a career, a woman should still carry on all domestic duties: a do-it-all mentality, as my mother calls it. What I mean by do-it-all is that many women feel the pressure to have a successful career while maintaining a large social life, getting married, having children, and taking care of the household. I do think this typecast role is changing, but I wish that there weren’t undercurrents of it around me, especially some of the responses I have gotten when I tell people that I want a PhD and do not want children. To sum up this long-winded and confusing response, being a woman does not define me. I am a human being first, and I have the discretion to determine what success means to me.”

How we define our role in our lives and in our own story is such a huge question. There are so many options for women today, but Srishti is right that the options do come with their own traps and difficulties. I love the way she shared her own story and inspiration in all of these answers. I know I have a lot to think about!

Thank you for sharing, Srishti! If you’d like to read more about professionals in fields like Srishti’s, check out our letters on our role models page.

 

Srishti

Discussion starters:
What do we need to persist at? What’s hard at first?
Can mistakes help us learn?
What does success mean to you? Does it look different for your friends?

Mentorship and Community: Olivia G.

Mentorship and Community:
with Olivia G, Neuroscience and Women’s and Gender Studies double-major

olivia

Olivia is standing next to a sign that reads, in French, “Before I am a woman I am human being; I should be respected as such.”

Olivia G. is a junior, studying Neuroscience and Women’s and Gender Studies – so she understands the role women have in STEM from two unique perspectives! She loves learning about the brain and how it works. She elaborated,

“I love abnormal psychology. I love learning anything about the brain and different things that can go on with the brain (i.e. different psychological disorders people can have). Basically, anything about the brain, I think is so cool!”

 

Brains are such a fascinating area of science – and one that’s obviously super important for us to understand! We all are affected by how our own brains work and probably know someone who has a psychological disorder or developmental disorder, which is another area she’s passionate about. Olivia got involved in this area early. She says that,

“My mom tells me I’m a very big-hearted person and it probably explains why I like work with kids with developmental disabilities so much. I am particularly interested in Autism Spectrum Disorder, how it develops, and the effects it has on the brain. I have worked with this population since a young age and I enjoy the rewarding work with these kids. I am interested in how the brain works which is why I decided to pursue Neuroscience (a mix a between Biology, Psychology, and Chemistry) to understand how the brain works.”

 

For Olivia, she’s always felt encouraged to pursue what she’s passionate about, and it’s her relationships with people that continue to push her further.

“I think it is more people that inspire me to keep going in the sciences. I was never discouraged by my main systems of support for liking science, which I think played a large role in why I am still in the sciences. Also, talking to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM fields inspires me to keep continuing and pursuing my education in the sciences.”

 

Olivia has an amazing system that encourages her, so she feels welcome in her field and prepared to accomplish amazing things. Sometimes, there’s a discussion on the “boy’s club” experiences of being a woman in STEM. It’s intimidating to enter a field if it feels like you’re not part of the group that’s ‘supposed’ to be there or has the invitation to enter a room. Even if your colleagues are kind and respectful, it still makes sense why some women feel out of place. In fact, there are structural issues with having a male-dominated space that can prevent women from feeling like they can achieve in the same ways. That’s why it’s so important to know how to combat these problems and to find your space in any room. One of these strategies is surrounding yourself with people who are positive examples and help you to feel you’re in the right place. Olivia expressed this, when discussing what makes her feel strong,

“All my friends [make me feel strong], particularly other women, who are in science classes with me. They make me feel like I’m not alone and that I am wanted. Also having female science professors is a big deal for me. I will purposely take my science classes with female professors. They empower me to continue in my science endeavors.”

 

This reminds me how important it is to have female STEM professors at colleges and universities, as well as professors of color and from different countries and backgrounds and viewpoints. We need to be able to relate to those we want to be like. In fact, in psychology Social Cognitive Theory teaches us that one method of increasing feelings of positive self-efficacy (which is your belief about your own competence aka “I can do this!”) is through vicarious experiences. Simply put, this means that when other people do awesome things, we feel like we can, too. However, this is only really effective when we relate to the person who is accomplishing something – they need to seem similar to us. (Although, fun fact, the best way of developing self-efficacy is through mastery experiences! So, if you work hard and have success – however you define it – at that science fair or on your work, you’ll feel more capable.)

This can be hard to accomplish for young women, if we don’t feel like we can relate to the people we see in our ideal profession. Additionally, although there are some awesome men I know I can definitely relate to, we don’t always have the opportunities to make those connections. Unofficial mentorship opportunities frequently crop up for young men, in the form of golf, poker nights, after-work social events, gym trips, etc. that women aren’t always invited to. If the opportunities aren’t finding us or we feel excluded from potential mentorships, how do we find our own mentors? Luckily, there are organizations and systems that exist.

At an early stage, while discovering what you’re interested in, we recommend reading the letters we have on our website or writing us an email if you want to hear from a STEM career that’s not represented. In many cases, we can also help pair you with a STEM mentor and activities to attend in your area. Trying out different activities and meeting professionals is a fun way to explore your interests.

Once you find something you love, keep in mind the elements that make you passionate about it. Be open to new possibilities, but keep that inspiration close to inspire you when it gets difficult. For Olivia, she finds her experiences related to neuroscience motivating. She says,

“This past summer I interned at an occupational therapy clinic in my hometown and it was a truly amazing experience. I learned a lot from the kids; I learned their developmental disability functioned within them and the snapshot into the daily lives of these kids and the parents of these kids. These kids remind me why I am in this field of study and give me to something to work for.”

At a higher level, you might even consider creating opportunities to find more mentors in your own community. A professor explained that when she began her career, a professor in a higher position created a panel of mentors for her. There were both men and women involved, and it created a place where she heard the kind of varied advice that other people might hear from colleagues at a social event.

Olivia said it best, though. I’m grateful for the generation of young women today who are becoming the role models we want to see. As she said,

“There are a lot of things that if I could I would change. I would love to see more women in pursuing STEM fields, more young girls being encouraged by elementary/middle school teachers to pursue STEM, and I would love to see more professors who are women in the STEM fields!”

 

A huge thank you to Olivia for sharing her story and hopes for the future of STEM! To learn more about neuroscientists and other STEM professionals, check out letters on our Role Model page or send us an email!

 

Let’s start a discussion:
What does our brain do?
What spaces do we feel strong in? What makes them special?
Who are our mentors?

Changing Perspectives and Finding Inspiration: Kamal B.

Changing Perspectives and Finding Inspiration:
With Kamal B., Geology major

Kamal B. is a sophomore, studying Geology. After exploring options during her first semester, she found her niche and loves the way she’s able to have an impact through her field. She found her passions through “a geology class on climate change,” that she took during her first year at college. She “loved learning about the history of climate change on Earth,” and it inspired her to pursue this major.

Geologists have to use a unique skill, where they view the world from a geocentric view rather than an anthropocentric perspective. That means keeping in mind that the Earth is way older than the history of humans. In fact, humans as we know them have probably been on the Earth for about 200,000 years – but Earth is over 4 billion years old! That’s a huge difference. Seeing the Earth from this view, where you recognize that its whole history has not revolved around humanity, can be a humbling and fascinating experience. It means knowing that there were big and powerful species before us (like dinosaurs!) and there will continue to be other important species. Our actions can impact the Earth in huge ways, but that doesn’t mean our history is Earth’s whole story. There’s a lot to learn from what came before us.

Seeing things from other views can be hard, though. It takes a lot of practice – whether it’s in the lab or another setting in life. We have to practice checking our own bias every day. Bias in science can be dangerous. It can cause us to interpret data differently, if we’re expecting certain results. Sometimes it’s harmless. Did you see the dress picture that went viral in February 2015? Some people thought it looked blue and black and some people thought it looked white and gold, due to differences in color perception.

However, if people were told it was black and blue (or if they were told it was white and gold) they were much more likely to see it as those colors than if they were not told which colors it was. This is called confirmation bias. We look for evidence that supports our beliefs. (Spoiler alert: the dress was actually black and blue. Personally, I usually see it as white and gold, though.) When you put that kind of logic into a lab setting, you can see how it can mess up our interpretation of data.

dress
Other times, bias isn’t as innocent as interpreting the color of a dress. Bias can hurt people and cause us to perpetuate stereotypes. Bias also affects the questions we ask. If we assume the world works a certain way or everyone has had the same experience as us, we won’t ask about anything that contradicts those ideas. That’s why it’s so important to both have diversity in STEM (like by including more women!) and to try to be conscious of the biases we have.

Even if we practice those skills in the lab, though, sometimes we forget about them in everyday life. We forget to respect other people’s perspectives and to learn from each other. Other times we remember, but other people forget to do the same for us. It can feel really hurtful when other people don’t try to see things from your perspective or respect your ideas. Kamal has certainly felt like people don’t always see her view on the world. Not everyone has always understood her desire to study geology, especially as a female in the field. It’s something that she wishes would change, since she knows she’s just as intelligent as her male peers. Representation is improving for women in geology, though. As of 2014, one third of PhDs in physical sciences and science technologies were earned by women. We’re optimistic that the number will continue to climb up towards fifty percent in coming years.

Kamal is a woman who challenges herself – she loves learning and contributing to the world around her. Her friends notice her persistence and strong work ethic. Those are qualities that can feel difficult to achieve, so I was curious about how she stays motivated. Kamal knows several things that help her, but the biggest is
“Knowing that the research that I am involved in is making a big impact in how we see the world around us.”

When we talk to people who have habits of persistence and who challenge themselves, one of the common elements is believing in something. These women have passion. They’re inspired by something big enough to excite their interests and light their curiosity. It’s important to find that piece of inspiration, because then when things do get challenging, it’s helpful to remember why you’re doing it. For Kamal, she knows that geologists are making a big difference in our world. Global warming is a huge issue that everyone should be considering. It can affect where you live, how much energy you consume, and even how bad your allergies are.  Kamal sees geology as an effective way to learn more about the issue. She says,

“It [Geology] is helping us to learn more about climate change on the Earth and how the Earth’s climate has changed in the past which will teach us about what to expect in the future.”

As her classmate, Kamal’s passion and dedication inspires me every day. I know I feel more inspired and ready to take on the world when I’m around her. She says it best, noting that,

“Having other powerful, intelligent women around me makes me feel strong.”

I love that she recognizes herself as one of those powerful, intelligent women and knows to look to her community when she needs a little push. Thank you for sharing your story, Kamal!

To learn more about physical scientists, check out letters from professionals like Kayla Iacovino on our Role Model page.

Let’s start a discussion:
How do you practice understanding someone else’s perspective?
How do you make sure other people hear your ideas? How can we support each other in having our voices heard?
What inspires you?
What do you know about geology? What do you want to learn?

Finding Confidence and Support Systems: Katie L.

Finding Confidence and Support Systems:
with Katie L, Electrical and Computer Engineering major and Math minor

Persistence, self-confidence – even during struggles -, and learning to both find and be a support system. These are key elements of success and strong themes in Katie’s story.

Katie L. is a junior, studying Electrical and Computer Engineering with a minor in Math. She’s been exploring engineering for a long time, starting with the help of her sixth-grade science teacher. His encouragement was really inspiring to Katie. With her curiosity sparked and an idea in mind, she decided to participate in a science fair. Looking back, she says she could have found the answer to her question with a little online research, but she loved exploring whether or not “different size batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volt) affect the brightness of a lightbulb” on her own. The hands-on project helped her gain experience and discover her passion.

Before she tried working with electricity, she hadn’t considered engineering. She had planned on being an artist or florist. She says that growing up she’d had “a bunch of puppets…each with a different job” like “police officer, firefighter, nurse, etc. and the only women represented were the nurse and teacher” so she thought those careers, were her only options. I love this story, because it reminds me how important it is to show examples of women in STEM fields, as well as the power of an encouraging role model.

Not only has she found people who inspire her, but now she’s also a role model for other students. She loves “talking to female ECE underclassmen, talking to grade school girls, everybody about engineering and my work because I know I can be a role model.” She’s also the only female Electrical and Computer Engineering major in the class of 2019. She says she feels proud of herself for staying in as the only woman and “doing awesome things.” Additionally, she takes the opportunities available to correct any gendered misconceptions on ability and encourage other young women. Despite the challenges, she’s glad she’s stayed involved with this subject because she’s had experiences that made her feel confident about herself. She shared this story about her high school experience, when her class did a review game to prepare for a certification test.

“… we broke into teams of girls versus guys and we smoked the boys. That was the first moment where I felt really strong in that room. I was extremely shy in high school but it was at that moment that I realized I could confidently speak up because guess what? I actually knew the answers.”

In addition to showing her own strength and lifting others up, it’s also important to have a reliable support network. For Katie, a college club called Women in Computing (WinC) can be a space to vent, as well as stay grounded and remind herself of what her classmates are struggling with. As far as women have come in STEM, there’s a long way to go and this is a great environment to meet other female STEM majors and find inspiration. Despite the fact that Katie is the only woman in her class, she’s excited that “as of last spring, there was a woman as the head of every engineering department except ECE.” She feels like progress is being made and that she has people supporting her.

Katie also added that having a support network and friends who encourage her is important for her confidence and sense of belonging.

“Something we talk a fair amount about in WinC is ‘impostor syndrome’ where you feel super unqualified to do what you’re doing. I’m sure it exists everywhere but it’s especially prevalent in women in STEM. There are studies on this that say women make less and aren’t promoted as often because they’re scared to advocate for themselves. I’m slowly starting to try to overcome this.”

Katie has done an amazing job of working hard to fight those feelings, while also helping others to do the same. Everyone can see how capable she is in her field, but sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself of your own skill.

One of my favorite ways to battle imposter syndrome is to focus on more than the just the largest victories. Find the small kernels of success that indicate progress is being made. That can serve as a reminder that, in a learning environment, each person is only competing with herself and show that you are getting the hang of things. These successes can be learning to format your paper, memorizing new formulas, speaking up in class, or feeling good about your study habits. Whatever it is for you, remembering that your work every day is part of your success can help you stay motivated and feel accomplished. Other strategies include learning to embrace praise instead of deflecting it and talking to others about your feelings. These take lots of practice, though! Like Katie explained, it’s a process that begins with recognizing the problem and “slowly starting to try to overcome” the issue.  (To learn more about imposter syndrome, check out “No, You’re Not an Imposter” by Lucas Laursen in Science magazine.)

Finally, Katie reminds us that our challenges teach us confidence and show us how persistent we can be. Following a rough semester of struggling with a class, she says that,

“I’ve learned that I am strong. I have become so much more confident in myself this semester alone. A big part of that confidence has stemmed from passing last semester as well as doing research this past summer.”

As an inspiring and accomplished engineering student, Katie is well on her way. She’s gotten this far by finding the strength and pride in her role, using her support networks, and advocating for herself while learning to battle any feelings of imposter syndrome. Her successes and mistakes have helped her to be confident and deepen her learning.

Katie L., photo credit Clay Wegrzynowicz

Thanks for sharing your story, Katie! To learn more about engineering, check out our role model page and read letters from several types of engineers.

 

Discussion starters:

What makes you feel proud of yourself?
How does that feel different than or similar to other people being proud of you?
Who encourages and inspires you?
Think of your favorite TV show, games or movies. What careers do you see women most represented in? What careers are missing?

 

Making a Difference and Learning from Failure: Emily K.

Making a Difference and Learning from Failure:
With Emily K., Engineering Studies major and Architectural Studies minor

“Compassionate, someone who will see the good in any situation or any person, and is always willing to pick you up when you need it.”

Emily’s friends describe her as many things. She’s kind, bright, caring, and persistent. She feels strong when she lifts and plays sports, and she enjoys studying Engineering and Architectural Studies. She says that she found her passion in engineering and architecture, because she’s “always been interested in science and math…and being someone who would challenge themselves or the norm.”

Through a STEM Academy, Emily was able to explore engineering and discovered “that the ultimate goal of this career is to help people and society.” As a woman who cares deeply about other people, it’s not surprising that she fell in love with that pursuit.

I love that she sees the beauty in Engineering and Architectural Studies and the potential to make a difference through these fields. Studies (including those by the Girl Scout Research Institute in their Generation STEM report) have shown that one of the main reasons women don’t pursue STEM fields is they prefer careers where they feel they’re helping people and connecting with people’s lives. Due to socialization, girls are often taught to be nurturing and to want to focus on social connections. There’s a false perception that engineers don’t touch others in the same way that other fields can. This isn’t true, though. Engineers impact everyone’s daily life and make the world so much better. Whether you’re examining harnessing renewable energy, noninvasive testing for diseases, automated wheelchairs, or even alarm clocks – engineers provide the tools we need to live our best lives. They do everything from saving our planet to making our Monday morning routine a little less painful.

Today, Emily is an iconic college tour guide; she’s charismatic and charming and tells stories in front of large groups of people with ease all the time. But she didn’t always do that so easily. When I asked her about a time she learned from failure, I was surprised to hear a story about public speaking. So often we assume that people who are good at things have always been good at them, but, really, it’s through hard work. We have to put effort into difficult things to become skilled at them – and sometimes, we need to fail so we can learn from our mistakes. Emily says that

“I was the president of a Toastmaster’s Club at my school, which is a program that teaches you to be a better public speaker. I was called to do special topic speech and I completely destroyed the topic. I spoke far too fast, I stuttered, and ultimately, I looked at the prompter and said I cannot speak anymore and simply sat down…That moment was an incredible learning moment – I suffered severe stage fright and I never thought I could speak to a crowd larger than 12 people after that moment. 3 months later, I spoke at my graduation in a hockey arena to over 1,000 people.

At the time, Emily felt embarrassed and as if people wouldn’t like her anymore. But she didn’t give up. She took that moment and worked hard to learn from her mistakes. She learned to slow down her speech and practiced speaking smoothly. Now, she’s an amazing presenter, and people admire her confidence and professionalism. Experiences like Emily’s are the scary moments that make us better.

It takes strength to persist through challenges, but Emily says she’s motivated, knowing that she is “creating the life I want to live: one that promises fulfilling work and a goal of helping society,” as well as exceeding her own personal expectations. She also encourages women to be confident in themselves and prove that “you EARNED the job because you were the most qualified,” not because of a need to fill a quota.

 

Thanks for sharing your story, Emily! To learn more about engineering, check out our role model page and read letters from several types of engineers.

 

Points to Start a Discussion:
How do we learn from our mistakes in STEM fields?

Look around you! Talk about a way engineering impacts your life.

How does the media portray engineers and scientists? Is it accurate?