Like Mother, Like Daughter

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I am really excited to introduce the first mother-daughter combo to be featured on the blog. Remember Jenn? Well, her mom is also in the STEM fields and is going to share her story with us today! Read on to learn more about how her interest in math and science has given her a very rewarding career and inspired her two daughters to follow suit! 

My name is Sue (Morgan) Castriotta and I am an alumna of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). I have always been fascinated with all things STEM-related. I remember being 12 or 13 and hoping for one thing for Christmas – a Texas Instruments calculator. I was so excited that I got it as I knew how expensive it was. I loved that it had memory capabilities and functions like square root. It kept me busy for hours as I completed calculation after calculation testing out all of its built-in functions and proving that the order of operations (PEMDAS to some of you) truly worked (nerd!).

Texas Instruments Calculator

This practice served me well when I got to high school in the late 1970’s. I was fortunate to attend a school that was large enough, and wealthy enough, to have its own computer. Part of all College-prep math courses included a 6thclass meeting during the week held in the computer lab where we learned to program computers. The lab was comprised of a small mainframe computer (small meaning the size of a fridge), a green bar dot-matrix printer (about the size of a chest freezer), and two desk-sized card punch machines. We were programming in Fortran ’77 using punch cards. What this meant was each line of code was “written” on a punch card. If you made a typo, you had to redo the entire card. You assembled your program by putting your cards in order then you stacked your program on top of those ahead of you in the card reader. When your program finally made it into the reader, it was then compiled and executed. Assuming you had no syntax errors (typos) and no logic areas, the program ran and you got a copy of your program and your output back on a large printout along with your cards.

Punch Card Program DeckI became intrigued by the power programming a computer gave me. I came to understand how my calculator worked and was able to replicate its functionality under my direction. It was during this time in my life when I realized that I wanted to work with computers. Upon graduation from high school, I attended WPI. I began my studies as a computer science major, but by the end of my sophomore year my interest in the field was waning. While I enjoyed the courses I was taking, I felt I was missing the pieces about where and how I could apply all that I was learning. It was at that point that I switched my major to management with computer applications. This degree area was a precursor to today’s Management Information Systems (MIS) degrees which synthesizes management practices with technology.

WPI

Following college, I got married and began my professional career working as a management information consultant for Arthur Andersen & Company (now Accenture). My experiences included customization of mainframe software used in manufacturing, government, and insurance which allowed me to travel around the state of Connecticut and experience some very different workplaces. It was also while working here that I had the opportunity to work on an early Macintosh computer and a Compaq portable. It was early into my tenure that I became pregnant with my first daughter and my husband and I decided to relocate to provide him with a better job opportunity.

When I returned to the working world 3 years later following the birth of my second daughter and another move, I went to work for PC Connection. I was drawn to the company due to its technology mission. At the time, the company was relatively new in the computer and computer accessory field and was conveniently located a half hour from our home. I was part of the sales team and began my work as part of the newly developed Macintosh sales force before transitioning to the PC side of the house. After two years in sales, I migrated to the technical support department. It was here that I developed expertise in the hardware side of computers and learned to support phone-based customers relaying information about computers that I could not see.

At about this time, my daughters were both school age, and I wanted to have more flexibility to spend time with them. I came across an ad in the local paper advertising a middle school computer teaching job which indicated that the applicant needed to be certified or certifiable. I figured I had to be certifiable, so I applied for, and got the job. While working on my teaching credentials, I obtained a Masters of Education degree in Computers in Education. I spent five years working with students from Kindergarten through 12th grade engaging in computer-related and computer-enhanced curriculum.

Regalia

While finishing my middle school teaching career, I was offered the opportunity to teach computer science part-time at our local state college (Keene State College). This part-time job turned into a full-time job when a position in the computer science department became available. However, to keep my job by obtaining tenure, I needed to complete a terminal degree. Back to college I went and obtained another Masters degree and a Doctorate. I worked my way up to department chair and became the School of Science and Social Science’s first Assistant Dean. Following my first year as Assistant Dean, I was offered the opportunity to take an interim position directing our newly formed Center for Engagement, Learning, and Teaching which was focusing on supporting faculty to enhance teaching and learning. This interim opportunity inspired me so much that I applied for, and obtained, the full-time position, a job I continue in today.

KSC

Throughout my winding career path, I have been blessed to work in a number of interesting workplaces with a diverse group of colleagues. The thing I have enjoyed the most throughout my career is satisfaction I receive when a person I am working with successfully completes something s/he has been trying to do. For me this has largely involved technology and has ranged from customers across the country trying to use a piece of software to a student trying to write a piece of software and lots in between.

The thing I have enjoyed most personally is watching my two daughters grow into the beautiful, wise women they are today. Not so shockingly, both are involved in STEM-related jobs. My older daughter, Jenn (featured on this blog, as well), is also a WPI graduate and is currently working as a patent examiner in Washington, DC. My younger daughter, Alli, broke with family tradition and attended UNH instead, and ended up working as a business development specialist for a computer company.

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Sue and her husband with their daughter, Jenn

Advice:

  • No career path, or life path, is straight. Take advantage of opportunities in which you are interested as you never know what will come of them. You may end up in a place you never imagined you could be!
  • Build a support network – you don’t have to go it alone. As a first-year student at WPI, I was outnumbered by men 8:1. While that could have been overwhelming, I found other women with whom to connect. This is a practice that I continued to follow and have many people, both men and women, with whom I remain in touch despite not working together for years.
  • Emphasize and utilize all the skills you have mastered, not just the technical ones. Employers are looking for people who are good critical thinkers and good team members, skills that are honed while studying STEM fields.

Travel Tip:

When my husband (also a WPI graduate) and I have traveled, we have found ourselves not only viewing some magnificent sites, but have also taken a look behind the scenes. For example, we have visited to the Hoover Dam and taken the tour to see the massive generators and learn how the Dam was constructed. When we visited Paris, we toured not only the Eiffel Tower, but the engine room with its hydraulic lifts and the World War II bunker under the Champs de Mars.

Hoover Dam

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