Tag Archives: Women in Engineering

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2016

I have been taking a break from the blog while I focus on a few other things but I was excited to be contacted by another organization who shares my passion for encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM subjects and so I decided to post today to share the work they are doing!

“Girls in grades K-12 are excelling in math and science, but more than half say they don’t consider careers in engineering or STEM. Teza Technologies CEO, Misha Malyshev, works with nonprofits to reverse this trend, and organize programs that teach students, especially young women,  hands-on applications of science, technology, engineering and math. Girl Day takes place on February 25th and is a chance for girls to learn about engineering careers, and to celebrate the important contributions engineers make to our world.”

Engineers Week_Girl Day

I am really happy to see leaders and companies like Teza Technologies taking action to help encourage girls to pursue STEM careers – let’s all continue to inspire the young STEMists we know out there!

One Girl’s Guide to Engineering School à la française

You are in for a real treat today – my colleague and dear friend, Tamara, is here to write about her engineering study abroad experience in France. She’s a smart and extremely talented woman and I am sure you will enjoy her story as much as I did…

When I took my first French classes in 7th grade, the term “engineer” conjured an image of a suspenders-wearing man who helped drive trains. There are other types of engineers (though driving trains is quite impressive and important, that is not the type of engineering I’d like to tell you about today)…

1_engineer_stereotype

Fortunately, thanks to the Penn State Women in Engineering Program’s outreach to high school students, I later learned that engineering is a very broad profession with many disciplines. Engineers can work in many different industries (medicine, food & beverage, energy) across many different geographic areas – including France.

I think I’ll always remember listening to a Penn State engineering student talk about her internship in France. At the time, I was still a high school student trying to decide what major to put on my college applications.  Yes, I liked science and math. Yes, I had fun building robots. However, hearing this student describe living and working in France was different from the typical “sales pitch” to potential engineering students. You could combine an interest in a foreign language with engineering.  Incroyable!

I had loved studying French (as well as math and science, bien sûr) all through middle school and high school. When I heard the engineering student talk about her French internship, the message I came away with was music to my ears. You don’t have to trade your French/English dictionary for a graphing calculator….you can use both.

I think you can compare engineering to a little black dress – great by itself, but even more fun when you can accessorize to your liking with business, law, or even a foreign language.

I accessorized my undergraduate studies in chemical engineering with French classes, an energy industry internship, a pharmaceutical industry internship, and a semester abroad at an engineering school in Nancy, France.

As I had continued to study both French and engineering, I decided that I wanted to apply my foreign language interest and technical skills together. Through online research, I found out about the Global Engineering Education Exchange, and selected three French Engineering schools, including l’Institut National Polytechnique de Lorraine (INPL, or National Polytechnic University of Lorraine), located in Nancy, a small city in Eastern France that I knew essentially nothing about beforehand except that 1) It was in France 2) It had an engineering school.

Although I was woefully under-informed about the city I would come to call home for a semester, I would soon also learn 3) Nancy was a gorgeous city full of lovely parks and promenades, architectural treasures, cobblestone roads, and open air cafés in the warmer months. 4) Nancy was also home to many other international students, though far fewer Americans than larger French cities like Paris.

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

Open air café in Nancy’s town square, Place Stanislas

 Now a note on cultural differences and culture shock:

As a foreign exchange student, you may be welcomed by the host country, but you won’t fit in. In my opinion, that’s kind of the point – you step outside of your comfort zone both culturally and linguistically. You struggle to understand and be understood, gaining a new empathy and respect for the international students who face this challenge for their entire academic careers back in the U.S. In facing these often-frustrating challenges, you learn not just about your host country, but about your home country too. The experience will force you to think critically about your own definitions of “normal.” I think that’s a wonderful and powerful personal lesson.

So anyway, engineering school in France. Off to Nancy I went and learned how to perform chemistry lab experiments in French:

3_travaux_pratique

Chemistry lab in French seemed to me fairly similar to lab coursework I had done in the U.S., although there was a pesky difference where they sometimes use commas for decimal points (example: 20.8 is written as 20,8).  Oh, and of course, the rest of the world uses the metric system, so I became accustomed to thinking about temperatures in Celsius and lengths in centimeters and meters.

One of my fondest chemistry-lab related memories actually occurred during spring break. I took a train to the Alps to take a ski lesson (en français, of course) and work on my organic chemistry lab report from my bed & breakfast in the evenings :

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

A study break from organic chemistry lab writing in the French Alps

Yes, engineering classes are demanding and require even more time and energy when they’re in French. However, as in U.S. university studies, I think it is important to make time for the unique extracurricular activities and events available. Enjoy the people, places, and celebrations for their unique character, even if (or perhaps specifically because) you are sans doute an outsider. I was some combination of lucky and open-minded, and had fun participating in French student life.

The school within INPL that I studied at was called l’École Européenne d’Ingénieurs en Génie des Matériaux (EEIGM), which translates roughly to “European School of Materials Science and  Engineering.” One of the events EEIGM hosted was le Tournoi des 4 Raquettes or “The Tournament of 4 Rackets.” TD4R was part team costume competition and part tennis/squash/badminton/ping-pong tournament.

5_TD4R

Studying in Europe is not all cathedrals and alpine skiing – both European and American college students enjoy any reason to wear ridiculous costumes. One of the funniest memories of my semester abroad turned out to be taking French public transportation from my apartment to the TD4R tournament dressed as a zebra.

That being said – the cathedrals were incredible:

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Saint-Étienne Cathedral in Metz, France, nearby Nancy in the Lorraine region

Taking technical coursework in French was challenging, and my semester abroad threw me off-sequence in my undergraduate curriculum, delaying my graduation. It was a time-consuming and expensive accessory to my education. I pursued the experience because it was a very important goal of mine on a personal level, and that made it worthwhile to me.

I emphasize the personal aspect of this time and fiscal resource-consuming pursuit because my message to a student reading this is not “Please take my experience and hit ‘Ctrl+C’.” My intended message is that you can and should seek out opportunities that are meaningful to you on a personal level based on your own values and interests. After all, it’s your little black dress!

Helping People through Epidemiology (Batsi – Biochemistry)

I am very excited to have Batsi on the blog today – she is a scientist who majored in biochemistry in college and is now working in the epidemiology field. She was my RA (Resident Advisor) in college and was such a wonderful role model for me – she was smart, ambitious, and encouraging to others to pursue their interests. I always found her so impressive and I am sure that you will agree! I’ll let Batsi take it from here…
 
Hi! I’m Batsi and I went to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) from 2003 – 2007 where I studied Biochemistry, with a minor in International studies. Then moved to Pittsburgh and went to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health from 2007 – 2008 and got a Masters of Public Health  (MPH) in Epidemiology.  I am currently on maternity leave but worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in the respiratory epidemiology department. I live in London, United Kingdom (UK) with my husband Taku, and two daughters Maya and Ana.

Batsi - Cambridge

Why did you become a scientist? 

I wanted to find a way to combine what I enjoyed, with helping people. In middle school and high school, I discovered I had quite an aptitude for math and sciences. I did what I needed to do to fulfill my humanities requirements, but found myself always in the chemistry lab or helping run the science fairs in high school because that was where I was most challenged and excelled. When it came time for picking universities, WPI was the prefect size, had the science and math rigor I wanted and I really liked all the people I had met from there. I intended to go to medical school after WPI and decided to go for a Biochemistry Bachelor of Science and fulfill the pre-med requirements in-tandem with the bachelors degree requirements. To make myself a more well rounded medical school candidate, I went and did the MPH and started working as an Epidemiologist in New York after that.
Batsi - Singapore

What projects have you done while studying or working as a scientist?

While studying at WPI, I was in a team that managed to go to Thailand and worked with a cancer hospice there assessing their home care  services for cancer patients as well as looking at quantifying patient quality of life with the cancer diagnosis. This project essentially led to my decision to pursue a public health Masters, with a cancer epidemiology focus. 
 
Having the epidemiology focus enabled me to join the respiratory epidemiology team at GSK many years later, where I was fortunate enough to help with some of the epidemiology data gathering for their new chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) medication, which was recently approved for use in the US and the EU.
Batsi - Thailand

Have you had the chance to travel anywhere? If so, where and why? 

I have been fortunate enough to live in over five countries as well as travel to many others. My mother was a diplomat and so I grew up in a number of countries. I am originally from Zimbabwe, and moved to Brussels, Belgium when I was ten. We then moved to Geneva, Switzerland and I completed high school there, and moved to the USA for university. After getting married, I moved to the UK. 
 
I have lived for short periods of time in Thailand and the UK  for WPI projects, as well as Botswana a little after my first daughter was born to stay with some family there.
 
As for other travel, I have been fortunate enough to visit about eight other countries either for school trips, or holiday.
Batsi - Stonehenge

What is a fun/interesting opportunity you have had through your career as a scientist? 

One of the most interesting things I have assisted with is the epidemiology data gathering for drug approval whilst working at GSK. The amount of work, the number of people and number of years it takes to get a single medication on the market is astronomical, but is incredibly rewarding knowing you were a tiny part of the process for a medication that can drastically improve the quality of life for people suffering with a chronic illness. 
 

What have you enjoyed most about being a scientist? 

I think the most interesting thing for me is how the training you get as a scientist prepares you and is applicable in many different fields, not just your specifically chosen one. The critical thinking skills, as well as rigor prepare you and make you somewhat comfortable with buckling down when things in work get tough, but also processing problems without panicking too much.

Any advice to aspiring women interested in science/technology/engineering/math (STEM)? 

My advice to any aspiring STEM ladies is to stick with it, find other women with aspirations as high as yours to keep each other motivated, and remember to enjoy the entire journey, and not just focus on the final destination or the hard parts. And explore the STEM fields, you never know what you may discover you love doing or can do, using math and sciences.
Victoria Falls 2010

Finding Your “Element” (Laura – Chemical Engineer)

It is my distinct pleasure to introduce today’s engineer, Laura! She is the Engineering Manager for the project we are working on and one of my role models! She is smart, level headed, and always full of smiles and good advice. I couldn’t ask for a better person to look up to! She is one of Ryan and I’s favorite people and I really think you will enjoy hearing her story! 
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My dear friend, Erin, asked me to write something for her blog to inspire girls to become engineers… And I thought, hmm, what would be the best way to do that, other than just telling others what made me one? And also, giving a little flavor of all my adventures during my professional career? However, before I start telling you more about myself, I wanted to mention something I consider critical: choosing your career is one of the most important decisions you will make so you will want to make a good choice. The only trouble is that you may not fully understand what it means when you decide what direction you want to go. You will probably wonder – What is a Process Engineer (my actual degree)?; what is a mathematician? What do lawyers really do? What does a person actually do when they graduate with their specific degree? The bad news is, you probably won’t understand it until a few years into your professional career or luckily, during your final college years. However, the most important thing is to follow your instincts to find “your element”: that thing that you love doing; that thing you can get so immersed in it, that time at work just flies by; that thing that you can never get enough of. Remember that even if you love it, it will still likely take a lot of time and effort, but that is also true of any good thing in life that you want to be successful at, right?!
Laura Noria Field Intro Pic
Now onto my story….this is how it goes: I really liked the sciences during high school and I was really good with math, chemistry, etc. Also, my home country of Venezuela, the Oil & Gas Industry is a big part of the economy (and also where the best salaries were). So, the combination of my math/science skills and the prospects within the oil & gas industry made it a no brainer for me to become a Chemical Engineer. However, it wasn’t until the middle of my internship at the Complejo de Refinación Paraguana (Venezuela’s biggest Refinery Complex) when I really understood what my career was about and some aspects of what I would be doing in the future. I was fascinated by such a huge facility able to produce oil and multiple other products by physical, chemical, and mechanical separation processes. The final years of my career took a whole other meaning after that experience because I saw the practical applications of everything I had been learning in school. One of my favorite parts about being a Chemical Engineer is that we are really versatile and, by knowing the actual “process” (translation: that mysterious word that just means what happens with the stuff coming from the ground when it gets inside the refinery), we become very handy in multiple other fields which means we can have a really broad range of experiences.
Laura Venezuela Refinery Collage
Then, about a year after I graduated from college, I started working for ExxonMobil in Venezuela at the Operadora Cerro Negro, Heavy Crude Oil Upgrader (very similar to a refinery). That was quite something: countless hours of hard work learning the units I was in charge of by heart… Learning from the Operations crew, the older engineers…Everyday there were new things to learn! This steep learning curve actually happens with anything you do, I think…the beginnings are always hard but, at the same time fascinating. One thing about being a female engineer in the oil industry is that, although nowadays there are a lot more women dedicated to this field, I can say that is still a male dominated one. But that does not have to be a bad thing! It depends always on how you approach it. Female engineers can add a lot of value with a different perspective than men and so the collaboration between men and women usually brings about better outcomes. I can say as a female engineer, I am taken seriously by my male colleagues and we always work together to find the right answer! And, I have made some truly wonderful friends that are also female engineers!
Process Engineers
The last part of my career, I have spent it working on a fantastic project for ExxonMobil Development Company (Arkutun-Dagi Platform). It is the heaviest Topsides ever built going to an arctic-type environment. Everything was different for me: country, language, specialty (offshore vs onshore), operating conditions (remember I was coming from the Tropics and now I was designing an Arctic style platform!!). During 7 years, I have seen it all…all types of challenges and a tremendous team effort to bring something from design on paper into a reality. I also had the opportunity to work in a Korean Fabrication yard which, engineer or not, is a mind blowing experience! All that besides meeting awesome people to work with like the Kendrick’s.
AD Topsides Collage - Laura
One of the cool parts about traveling to Korea (besides the amazing experience of working in a shipyard on a huge project) is that I was able to see some of the sights around Asia…I went hiking with my team and experienced the beauty that Korea had to offer and also got to hike the Great Wall in China with my husband’s MBA class on my way for one of my trips to Korea. Having the opportunity to see more of the world is something I really enjoy!
Laura Noria Asia Travel Collage
In summary I can tell you, if you want a profession where you are ALWAYS learning (I can still say that after almost 15 years), and if you are driven by challenge….if you like to build, create, innovate, then go for it and become an engineer! Remember that an engineer can work in nearly any industry, not just oil and gas; food processing, construction, cosmetics, plastics, commodities…the opportunities are endless! My biggest advice is to never forget to follow your instincts and don’t settle for just “a” career – challenge yourself and find your “element”!

Nuclear Energy and Adventurous Travels (Ashley – Mechanical Engineer)

Our guest post today is by Ashley who is living and working in the energy industry but in a bit more of a unique niche – nuclear energy! I’ve known Ashley since the early days in college – in fact, she, Kristin, and myself were and still are great friends – sharing a love of our school (hence the picture at homecoming with our college mascot!), engineering, fitness, and adventures. Read on, because I think you’ll enjoy hearing what Ashley has been up to!  

Erin Kristin Ashley

Introduce Yourself:

I’ve known Erin since she first came to campus at WPI.  We became quick friends and shared many on-campus interests including involvement in student government and serving as orientation leaders introducing new students to school.  Erin has had great opportunities to travel all over the world, but I do miss her often. Recently Erin reminded me to get my blog post in, so I’m armed with Starbucks and a free Sunday morning to tell you my story.

Ashley Lindeman

What have you done in your career as an engineer?

After graduating from WPI, I went to work for Westinghouse. Nope, I didn’t design or manufacture toasters or TV’s. Westinghouse is actually a vendor of commercial nuclear power plants.  In addition to designing the new reactor design, AP1000, they provide field services, fuel, and engineering services to operating plants all over the world.

Specifically, my group at Westinghouse performed probabilistic risk analysis (PRA) for nuclear power plants. These risk analysis can help plant operators identify vulnerabilities as well as providing a tool to run the plant safer.  There are many hazards that need to be evaluated and all of them are evaluated from a large boolean fault tree of the plant components.  I specialized in Fire PRA, which specifically looks at fire sources in the power plant and evaluated the potential risk impact.  For six years, I traveled the world performing and reviewing similar analyses.

A little less than a year ago, I had a great opportunity to move from performing these fire risk assessments to managing the research in the area of Fire PRA.  Currently I work for the Electric Power Research Institute. My role is really interesting as requires a strong technical background on the subject area, managing projects (schedule, budget, status,etc.) and communicating status of research results. I have ongoing projects in many technical areas including circuit behavior during a fire, calculating frequencies of fire events, verifying and validating adequate fire dynamics tools as well as working on how to best simulate fires in electrical cabinets.

Ashley Work Collage 1

Why did you become an engineer?

Growing up I wanted to be anything from a fish expert to a firefighter to a lawyer. In school, I was always performing well in both math and science courses. My dad studied electrical engineering and I knew studying engineering in college would help me have a successful career. My dad told me that someone with an engineering degree would have many options  beyond engineering. I still think that is true!

What places have you had the opportunity to visit?

I’ve traveled to visit domestic nuclear power plants in Alabama, Arizona, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and North Carolina; internationally, I’ve visited nuclear power plants in Brazil, Sweden, and Spain.

I’ve also traveled to other neat places – Belgium, France, Las Vegas, Florida, New Orleans, Charleston, Disneyland and Disneyworld (within one year) and extensively to Washington, DC.

I’m heading to Germany at the end of this month to present a paper I wrote!

Ashley Travel Collage

How were you able to make the most of your time in places that you were sent for work?

I extended my trips so I could go early or stay a bit later to do some sightseeing.  I’ve extended trips to see the Hoover Dam, spend a weekend in Copenhagen, travel a week earlier to tour France and Switzerland, windsurf in Sweden, spend the weekend in San Francisco, and routinely meet friends for dinner in Washington, DC.

Ashley Eurotrip Colllage

Pro tip: Extend your trip so you go early (versus staying later at the end) if you may get homesick. I know at the end of a two week trip I had an extra day to sight-see, but, I really just wanted to get home.

What is the most interesting story you had while traveling?

I definitely enjoyed touring and performing plant walk-downs.  The first plant I became very familiar with was in Sweden. I visited probably every room in the three units!  My favorite experience was going into Containment (the large cement structure that houses the nuclear reactor) for a tour.  We went when the plant was in an outage and were able to walk all around and see plant components and systems that were previously a mystery to me. Peering into the flooded fueling cavity was really neat, as well as seeing the large reactor coolant pumps which are multiple stories tall and 7000 horsepower!

Also, now that I think of it. When I was in Brazil, at my hotel, a massive thunderstorm came through and knocked the power out – it was a bit creepy. The other creepy thing about the hotel, was that there were in the process of demolishing it. That was probably the most bizarre of my travel experiences and the behind the scenes tour of the Swedish Nuclear Power Plant was the most interesting.

Brazil

What have you enjoyed most about being an engineer?

Besides the strange need to do an unhealthy amount of research to plan a vacation? Or make the most badass spreadsheet to plan every day of it?! Clearly those are the top reasons, but I do enjoy the opportunities for engineers. I had a job by Thanksgiving of my senior year which made me rest easy for the remainder of my time at WPI. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to travel, meet new people, solve challenging technical issues, and learn new things every day about the nuclear power industry!

Tips for aspiring engineers:

Writing and communication skills are really important! WPI did not require English classes nor writing classes, so naturally I did not take any.  I really wish I did, because I write all the time for work! Make sure to take time to stay well rounded so that in your career, you’re able to use all your skills to be successful!

More Stories from Offshore Russia

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of our initial thoughts about living and working offshore and I am going to share some more fun stories that have happened since then. For starters, while we are out here, we work every single day (no weekends off!); our days start early – we’re usually in the office before 6 AM which means we usually catch the sunrise and we’ve had a few really great Sakhalin sunrises!

Sakhalin Sunrise

Most recently, one of the coolest things about being out in the middle of the ocean is that there are other animals that you wouldn’t normally see that come to check you out – this is our friendly neighborhood sea lion who has been stopping by often since we’ve been here. I didn’t believe he existed for a little while because I hadn’t seen him and then I was able to see him up close when he decided to hang out on the back of the boat for the morning last week. I was unbelievably excited to see him…he even looked up to say hello!

Sea Lion

We end up working a lot of hours (starting before 6 AM and usually finishing around 8 PM). Part of this is due to the fact that there is not much else to do out here, so working seems to be a natural way to kill time. Even still, we’ve been doing our best to make time to stay fit while we’re out here. We usually workout in the morning but joined the group workout on the helideck on one of the really nice nights out here. It was a great place to work out – certainly a unique experience, particularly running around the helideck and lifting weights while the sun was setting…pretty darn cool!

Helideck Workout - Kendricks

Helideck Evening WorkoutOne of the more frustraing aspects out here has been the internet – I never knew this message existed….

No Internet

…until we started seeing it quite often because our internet kept going down. The picture of the T-Rex translates to: ”Welcome back to the Cretaceous Period where the internet did not exist.” It’s funny because we all get really frustrated when our internet doesn’t work (you hear groans around the office and you immediatley know what has happened) – we can’t get to the files we need to work off of, our email doesn’t work, and we can’t Skype or communicate back and forth with family/friends. It feels like it has almost become a basic necessity – all you need is food, water, shelter, and….an internet connection. I am happy to report that we have had a more reliable connection the past couple of days (which is why I’m able to post this today!).

Last story – a couple of days ago, my roommate, Tamara, came running into my office and said, “it’s official – we are on a cruise ship!” I looked at her puzzedly and she pulled out her phone and showed me pictures of our beds where the cleaning staff had folded our towels to look like flowers.

Flower Towel 2

Tamara’s Flower Towel

In case you’re wondering – yes, we brought our own towels with us – the ship doesn’t stock pink colored towels. My back to back (person who is here working while I am on days off), Amy, had advised I bring my own towel and a fleece blanket with me….I’m really glad that I did – it definitley makes things more comfortable and feel a bit more like home which is nice. And…it seems it also gives our cleaning staff artistic inspiration.

My bed with the towel flower

My bed with the towel flower

To say thank you, we left a candy bar for the cleaning people and the next day, we came back to other towel critters. At the end of it all, sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile more than you would ever expect.

Towel Animal

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little more about our 3.5 weeks offshore – yes, you read that correctly…3.5 weeks…which means only a few more days until we make the long trek home! And then our time off begins…we are really looking forward to it as I’m sure you can imagine.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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.

JCass Picture 2

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

Marathons, Manufacturing, and Many Adventures!

Today, we have one of my favorite fellow Mechanical Engineers from college – she’s smart, motivated, and super sweet! She’s a great example of how you can still change what area of engineering you pursue regardless of the degree you graduated with. Read on to learn more about my good friend, Megan….

Hi! My name is Megan Prokop. I am a manufacturing engineer working at Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I am not working or traveling, you can usually find me running. I recently ran my first Marathon in October 2013.

My husband and I after finishing the Chicago Marathon

My husband and I after finishing the Chicago Marathon

I love being a manufacturing engineer; it is challenging, exciting and requires decisions to be made quickly – but manufacturing is not the career I had planned when I was at Worcester Polytechnic Institute getting my degree in Mechanical Engineering.

I decided to go into engineering because I enjoyed and excelled in math and science and loved problem solving. I attended WPI and became interested in mechanical design through one of my professors. I was interested in how parts moved and interacted in order to create motion and how products could be designed in order to help peoples’ lives.

During the summers after my sophomore and junior years I interned at General Electric in Connecticut where I performed product testing. One of my favorite tests was using a fire hose to blast an electrical panel with water to ensure it would not leak. When the unit failed, I had to figure out why and suggest improvements to eliminate the leakage.

Product Testing at GE

Product Testing at GE

I graduated in 2007 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Design. I went to work for Raytheon where I planned to put my new design skills to use. It didn’t take me long to figure out design was not where I’d spend my career.

I craved work that was more hands-on, where I could see the immediate impact of my work. I was fortunate to have a great manager who encouraged me to rotate into a manufacturing role where I would be responsible for developing a process for assembling circuit cards. He stressed the fact that a stint in manufacturing would make me a better designer engineer. Manufacturing would teach me how to design items for easy assembly and give me a better appreciation of the work required to build my designs. I was nervous to make this jump to the manufacturing floor since I had no experience with manufacturing or circuit cards, but was excited to give it a try.

Graduation from WPI!

Graduation from WPI!

Working on a manufacturing floor is fast paced and stressful, but it’s also extremely rewarding. You’re able to make changes to a process and immediately see how they affect the cost, quality and schedule of the finished product. I worked closely with people in many different positions who were all needed in order to make sure the process went smoothly – including people from supply chain, operations, test engineering, materials engineering, and my previous role – design engineering.

As suggested by my manager, I found that some of the plans from the design engineers proved very difficult to build. I also worked closely with the technicians who completed the manual part of the assembly. They taught me the differences between a good and a bad process and showed me and how to write a process that was easy to follow. I recently transitioned from circuit card manufacturing to system repair which has given me new a perspective on how the all the pieces of a system interact and the challenges of making all the parts come together to create a single product.

I’ve always loved to travel and continue to do so whenever I have the opportunity. In high school I traveled to my home town’s sister city in Japan: Nobeoka. I lived with a Japanese host family and attended Japanese school for two weeks. The trip was complicated by the fact that I knew almost no Japanese and my host family spoke minimal English, but the experience taught me to embrace other cultures and to learn as much as I can about the places I travel.

Meeting our Classmates and Participating in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (Nobeoka, Japan)

Meeting our Classmates and Participating in a Japanese Tea Ceremony (Nobeoka, Japan)

One reason I chose to go to WPI was the fact that they encouraged the students to go abroad at least once during their education. While at WPI I traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to complete an interdisciplinary project. I worked with two other students at an Open Air Museum, where we developed a GPS guided tour that was aimed at getting middle and high school students more interested in the museum.

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark

Exploring Copenhagen, Denmark

Since then, I have traveled as much as possible. My favorite trips have been to Costa Rica, Italy, Hawaii and Victoria, British Columbia. Some of the best experiences of my life have required stepping outside my comfort zone, including zip lining in Costa Rica and flying in a helicopter in Hawaii.

Getting ready to take flight (Kauai, Hawaii)

Getting ready to take flight (Kauai, Hawaii)

In front of the colessum in Rome, Italy and a view of the Cinque Terre

In front of the coliseum in Rome, Italy and a view of the Cinque Terre

Orca whale watching in Victoria, BC

Orca whale watching in Victoria, BC

For work and for travel, my advice is to be open to change, push yourself and always go on adventures. You never know where you may end up and what amazing experiences await you.

Megan Costa Rica Collage

Zip-lining in Costa Rica – awesome adventure!

Keeping Drinking Water Clean! (Lily – Environmental and Water Resource Engineer)

Today, it’s Lily’s turn to tell you all about her path to engineering and what she’s up to now! She is another great example of the dual passions between the performing arts and math/science and how you can do both. You’ll be able to tell right away that she’s super sweet and certainly cares a lot about learning more and more to impact the world around her…

Have you ever wondered where your drinking water comes from?  How does it get all the way from a reservoir or a well to your faucet? Is the water quality good enough to drink? How does it need to be treated to make sure its safe for you to drink? These are the sorts of questions Environmental and Water Resources Engineers answer every day!

water

 If you had asked me in high school what kind of career I wanted to pursue I probably would have given you a whole range of interesting options:

  • a musician
  • a dancer
  • a chemist
  • a biologist

I had always enjoyed math and science, but I also loved music and dance, and spent the majority of my childhood through high school playing in various ensembles, attending daily dance classes, and performing in weekend competitions. My parents are both professional musicians so it’s probably no surprise that a career in performing arts was something I enjoyed and was interested in pursuing!

Lily Career Interest Collage

I applied to music and science college programs as a high school senior and ended up choosing WPI, because I knew the school had excellent science and engineering programs and also a great music program…so I could do both. Let’s face it, I’m also a pretty practical person and I thought I would definitely be able to get a job after school with a science or engineering degree. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be an engineer though because I thought it would mean sitting at a desk all day doing calculations and not interacting with anyone.  

During my first year of classes at WPI, I took an Intro to Environmental Engineering class by recommendation of an upperclassman friend…and I loved it! I became particularly interested in drinking water.  Providing safe drinking water to communities presents many interesting engineering and societal challenges on local and global scales. Water is used for so many things such as drinking, agriculture, and hydropower generation, to name a few. Every living thing on the planet needs water…so how do we balance everyone’s needs in a safe and sustainable way?

At WPI, I was able to study Environmental Engineering and also continue pursuing my love for music by playing my trumpet in many different musical groups. People are always surprised by WPI’s great music program. But music and math actually have a lot in common, so it’s not all that surprising to me to find a bunch of engineers jamming in Alden Hall!

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Me standing with a brass quintet my senior year.

While at WPI, I was able to travel to Windhoek, Namibia in Africa to complete a project junior year. It was one of the best experiences of my life! I chose Namibia because it seemed like a place I wouldn’t normally visit on a vacation…why not try something a little different? Before starting my project in Windhoek, I travelled with some other students to Cape Town for a week. Here is a picture of me paragliding from the top of Lion’s Head Mountain! Birds eye view of the city!

In the air with my guide. He let me steer a little

In the air with my guide. He let me steer a little

Looking down at the beach

Looking down at the beach

We climbed higher for a better view

We climbed higher for a better view

The project I was working on in Namibia was not related to Environmental Engineering. Instead, my group worked in the National Museum of Namibia where we researched and designed touch screen displays for the historical and cultural exhibits in the museum. Designing the displays was challenging because visitors of all different backgrounds and languages came to the museum, so it was important that the displays be easily understood and enjoyed by people with different languages, ages, and educational backgrounds. One of the exhibits we worked on was about traditional Namibian musical instruments…so cool! Working and living in another country was eye opening and a wonderful experience.

The Namibian musical instrument display

The Namibian musical instrument display

One weekend we travelled to the coast and got to try out sandboarding…like snow boarding but on the dunes!

Sandboarding in Namibia…like snow boarding but on the dunes!

Travelling is a great opportunity to take advantage of if you can, either in school or just for fun. It allows you see the world from different perspectives and experience different cultures. My husband Chris, a Mechanical Engineer and graduate of WPI, enjoy travelling together (just for fun) and hope to do lots more in the future (when we’re both not in school)!

Chris and I in Dubrovnik, Croatia walking along the city wall

Chris and I in Dubrovnik, Croatia walking along the city wall

Kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine

Kayaking in Acadia National Park in Maine

My senior year at WPI, I worked on a senior design project with my friends Rick (a Fire Protection Engineer) and Joe (a Structural Engineer). Our project assessed building and wastewater treatment needs for the extreme weather conditions on the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Wastewater treatment on the top of the mountain is especially difficult in the freezing weather!

This is my senior project team on the top of Mount Washington

This is my senior project team on the top of Mount Washington

After graduating from WPI, I have received my Master of Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass) and I’m currently still in school working towards my PhD.  I just can’t get enough school or homework! But in all seriousness, I really enjoy learning new things and hearing about all the new research happening in the field and that’s what keeps me excited about engineering. Embrace the inner nerd!

Me being a mad scientist

Me being a mad scientist

Since I’ve been at UMass, I’ve been doing research on the Wachusett Reservoir in central Massachusetts. I use a model to simulate how water moves in the reservoir and I can use the model to research how potential contaminants (such as an oil spill) from different sources could travel to the drinking water intake. Last spring I traveled to Denver CO to present my research at a conference.

Exploring Denver, CO

Exploring Denver, CO

Sometimes my work allows me to go out into the field and get data or samples from the reservoir.  This is a picture looking out onto the reservoir on a calm summer morning. Beautiful!

Photo12

This is the Cosgrove drinking water intake on the Wachusett Reservoir. This is where the water is withdrawn to be treated and then sent to Boston.

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The thing I’ve enjoyed most about being an engineer is applying the concepts I’ve learned from class to solve problems that are really important to society, like providing safe drinking water. Engineers do so much more than calculations sitting behind a desk!!! We create solutions to challenging problems…and that makes for a really rewarding career in my opinion.  : )

My advice to aspiring women engineers is to talk to other female (and male!) engineers about their experiences! It’s a great way to hear stories, learn about the different types of engineering careers, and figure out which field of engineering is best for you. There are so many!

Thank you to Lily for sharing her story! I have been featuring many wonderful females within the STEM fields to show the wide range of interesting opportunities you can have. If you’re in one of these fields and want to share your story, too, I’d love to feature you – just drop me a line and we can get started! 

Being an Engineer and Mom is Awesome!

I am really excited to have Christie Holmes on the blog today – she is another fellow WPI alumna who always seemed like super woman. She was thoroughly interested in her classes at school, studying hard to learn as much as she could while staying very involved on campus (we even played a season of Rugby together!). Since graduating collage, she has maintained super woman status and is now a full time engineer, student pursuing her Masters, and mother. I can assure you, she is doing a wonderful job at all of these but I’ll let her tell us more about how she became an engineer and also how she manages an adorable son while maintaining her professional career. Without further ado, here’s Christie…

Work Life Balance

When I was in 7th grade, I did my first ever Science Fair Project on Newton’s Three Laws of motion; you could say I have been hooked on science and engineering ever since.  In high school, I continued my love for science by taking every course my school had to offer.  I also discovered my second passion while in high school; travel.  In my junior year, my Spanish 4 class traveled to Spain for 10 days.  It was an amazing trip and I couldn’t wait to plan my next adventure.  That summer, I qualified to play field hockey in Europe and traveled through England and Holland for a month while playing.  The following year I had to select colleges, and I was immediately drawn to WPI, not only because it was my Dad’s alma mater, but also because I loved the idea of being able to travel while pursuing my love for science.

Christie Photo Collage 1

I started as a Biochemistry major, but quickly changed to Chemical Engineering halfway through my freshman year.  I completed one of my projects required for graduation while living in beautiful Venice, Italy.  In 2006, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to work in a rotational program for a large chemical manufacturing company.  I moved to South Carolina immediately after graduation and began working in a chemical plant.  Moving that far from home was a total culture shock (what do you mean I can’t buy groceries until after 1pm on Sunday???), but I really enjoyed learning about new places. Shortly after I started working for the company, I became very interested in continuous improvement, lean manufacturing and Six Sigma.  I attended several training courses in Tennessee, Chicago, and Italy and within a year I was promoted to a Global Improvement Engineer, which was a role that fulfilled every wish I had when graduating from WPI. I was doing engineering, while traveling, and meeting new people all the time.  I spent many weeks in Germany, Brussels, Italy, Spain, Austria, New York, Chicago, West Virginia, and South Carolina.

Christie Travel Collage

During my visits to these sites, I was tasked with training the local plant employees on basic lean manufacturing principles, then I would work as a project facilitator to attack some of their more pressing issues such as waste minimization, cycle time reduction, increased plant capacity, and controlled inventory levels.  These projects were often a month or so in length, and it allowed me plenty of time for leisure travel while I was working in these beautiful places.  I feel very fortunate that I am able to say I have been horseback riding in the Alps and had the opportunity to spend weekends trolling Milan for the latest fashions.  It was a wonderful experience and one that I am so glad I was able to do before my responsibilities to my family became too strong.

After two years of this amazing lifestyle, my long term boyfriend (also a Chemical Engineer and WPI graduate) and I got married and decided to start a family.  I took a job with a local  pharmaceutical manufacturing company (in Rhode Island, where we are both from) working as a capital project and new product engineer.

Christie Photo Collage 2

To date, my greatest achievement has been the birth of our son Oliver in 2010.  I never really understood how large an impact such a tiny person can make on your life, and I would be lying if I said I was totally prepared for all the changes that came as a result of his arrival.  I had a (very) short maternity leave of 6 weeks.  At that point my company graciously allowed me to come back to work part time, thirty hours a week.  In six short weeks, I went from being the person that worked 80 hours a week, the woman that came to work while in labor to tie up loose ends before she was out for a couple of weeks, the woman that often opened and closed the building each day, to the woman that didn’t want to work anymore.  It was a long transition, but slowly I found myself feeling more and more comfortable at work.  I looked forward to being able to drink an entire cup of coffee while it was still hot and was thankful for the adult conversations.

Baby Oliver Collage

When Oliver was 9 months old, I came back to work full-time and it was another huge adjustment.  I found myself spending a lot of time worrying about my schedule, getting home to him, and reaching a balance in my work and home life.  One thing that has helped me find great peace is that to me, balance doesn’t mean you do all things equally always, it means that you are able to devote your time where  and when it is needed.  When work is crazy, I spend more time there and ask my husband to help more at home.  When Oliver is sick or going through a transition, I devote more of my time to him and work from home when possible.  By no means is my life very Zen, but I strive for balance between work, home and friends; some weeks it is more of a struggle than others.  I also feel like I am setting a strong example for him about what it means to be a professional and a parent at the same time.

Christie - Oliver Collage

Being an Engineer and a Mom is awesome! I love teaching Oliver about science. He may be the only three year old that knows when the bath water goes down it makes a vortex, or that gravity makes his ball fall out of the sky when he throws it up.  Our home is filled with blocks and puzzles and we spend lots of time talking about space and robots and dinosaurs; in fact he recently asked if our next vacation could be to the asteroid belt!  It makes me so happy to see how eager he is to learn and I am proud that I can answer so many of his questions.  I love that he shares my deep curiosity for how things work and always tries to figure out “what da pwowbem is” if one of his toys isn’t functioning the way it should.  Deep down I know that he is an engineer in the making and by setting the base for strong problem solving skills and instilling a desire to answer the question “why” all the time we are hopefully culturing a strong leader.

Christie and Oliver Photo Collage

Today, I am still working full-time at the same company, but I am now a Senior Process Engineer overseeing everything from new product introductions to process optimization projects.  I also went back to school to earn my MS in Operations Design and Leadership (from WPI) and anticipate graduating in May 2015.  Although my priorities have shifted and my next trip is scheduled to Disney instead of some exotic locale, I am honored to be on the biggest journey of my life - motherhood.

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