Women In Engineering

Why mentoring and STEM are so important for the next generation of engineers.

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While I’ve been involved in Women In Microwaves for many years now, beginning in 2011 with my chairmanship of what was then only a WIM social hour at IMS, until this year I had never participated in the WIM panel sessions that were expanded from the social hour starting several years ago. In Hawaii this year that changed when I was invited to join in the 2017 WIM panel, “Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Engineers,” which was organized by Carolynn Kitamura, Sasha Yamada, and Andy Pham.

For the first time ever, this panel sought to reach out to women of all ages and career stages by opening the session to audiences ranging from middle school girls to professional women. Discussions ranged around finding out what it takes to “make it” in this male-dominated occupation and the panel members shared their personal journeys and advice on becoming successful microwave engineers.

The organization of this session was top notch, and the moderator, Katherine Herrick of Raytheon, was also quite engaging and stellar with her role on keeping the dialogue flowing.

Last but not least, however, I have to thank the 70-plus person audience, who stayed late on Thursday of IMS to listen in and then attend the network event that followed. I met many wonderful women and men at this event and if our brief encounter can be a guide to anything, the future of our industry is in good and very capable and passionate hands.

If you didn’t have the chance to attend the session, read on as I’m sharing a few of my favorite Q&As with you now. To keep the dialogue going, find me on LinkedIn and/or email me using [email protected].

IMS2017 WIM PANEL SESSION Q&A

Topic: Importance of networking and finding mentors

Q: How has your understanding of mentoring evolved throughout your career?

A: I began mentoring another woman many years ago at a prior company and saw the value of helping her. It also helped me and we still stay in touch. When I became involved in the WIM event at IMS back in 2011 and then took on the co-chairmanship of the IEEE Women in Engineering I really became aware of the power of networking and mentoring. In my travels around the world speaking at women’s events, helping to organize and sitting on panels (2 other panelists today I met thru prior WIM events), I talked to many women who all have the same problem—they are trying to work in a mostly male industry and we need the support all of the women within it to stay and succeed.

Topic: Inspire young women (middle / high school) to pursue a career in STEM

Q: Looking back on your education, what was the deciding moment that helped you decide to study for engineering?

IMS2017 WIM PanelA: My father worked at Westinghouse, specifically in nuclear, so I had been surrounded by engineering my entire home life. I recall doing science projects in junior high all around nuclear energy as well as watching a show on PBS “What Will They Think of Next?” On this show, the MC highlighted engineering / science phenomena and what new and innovative ideas were being pursued to solve the challenge. I would have been a binge-watching fanatic if the concept had existed back then;-)

Topic: Share hardships and what was done to overcome them

Q: From your unique perspective as a woman in engineering, what is a challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome it?

A: This is a light-hearted story but back in my early days at Ansoft I was working a tradeshow much like IMS and I was speaking with a potential customer at our booth about our software, what he designed, etc. A few minutes into the conversation, he said, “Ok, can I talk to someone technical to learn more?” I was shocked and without thinking answered “Well, I’m technical. Can I help?” He looked at me in confusion. At that moment one of my colleagues who was standing near (and not technical in the least I might add) came over and injected, “Yes, she’s technical and the best we have!” I can share other stories similar to this but I think the unconscious or conscious bias women in STEM careers face from men that meet us and assume we are just not technical is the hardest and one of the more common challenges to overcome.

Topic: How to prepare for a successful career (starting from middle/high school)

Q: What steps can a middle school or high school student take to become a successful engineer?

A: Take all the classes in science and math that you can. Participate in STEM clubs and activities. Many community outreach programs from engineering companies offer opportunities for high school students—everything from mentorships to internships, to participation in conferences. Visit Khan Academy and fun YouTube science sites. Participate in MakerSpace and/or Robotic First. Take what you are learning in books and make it come alive. Students from across the country are invited to NIWeek, where they participate in special programs, roam the exhibition floor, and attend technical sessions. IMS this year offers a STEM program that exposes middle school and high school students, as well as their teachers, to microwave technology. Take advantage of any and all opportunities you can find. Seek out and network with influential women in the industry at these events—in the future someone might write a recommendation for you for college or become a mentor.

Topic: Steps to become a successful engineer

Q: What is your secret to success?

A: Be true to myself. Try to do the right thing, feed my inner curiosity, live up to my own metrics for success (personal accountability).

In summary, each panelist was asked to provide her favorite inspirational quote, which was included in the flyer for the event. My favorite quote supports my mantra to be true to myself:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt