Connecting to the STEM Pipeline - My Engineering Story
Updated: Jun 27, 2020
When I was in Grade 11, I was selected by my chemistry teacher Mrs. Williams for a 4- day excursion to Chalk River Nuclear power plant, which is very close to my hometown of Ottawa, ON. This was an opportunity, not only to shadow nuclear engineers and be part of research projects, but also to figure out how to research industries and potential career paths. For me, I didn’t have anyone in engineering in my life, and didn’t have any way to access the information – we also didn’t have many of the STEM related programs available to students back then, so it really was the event that sparked me to think STEM was for me. Being selected helped me gain confidence, and I felt proud of being recognized by my teacher as being worthy to attend. It was by far one of the main reasons I entered saw chemical engineering as a place I belonged.
Looking back, I realize how important it is to create sparks in students – moments in time where pride is felt for your accomplishments, and feeling special about a subject you are interested in.
Too often, I’ve sat on panels, listening to experts in their field, and self-doubted that I could every achieve that accomplishment. Our STEM journeys are long, and when you talk to someone at the middle or end of their careers, it can seem an impossible accomplishment to someone just starting out. I remember a young girl coming up to me after a talk and saying, “I have no idea what you were talking about, but it sounded awesome.” I’ll never forget that comment, because it caused me to wonder about the other students who heard me talk, who didn’t think they could be just like me. And it made me sad to think I couldn’t reach them with my talk.
I think the most important role of mentors and sponsors will be to help students recognize in themselves a talent that they can’t see. There is a song lyric that goes “I see a part of your that only when you’re older you will see to (Flora Cash).” While I think panels can be a great way to spark conversation or ideas, its personal connection and forming personal relationships with the next generation, that will make the biggest difference to whether or not a girl will think STEM is for her.
So today, on National Women in Engineering Day, be sure that you are not only a role model but take the time to talk to young girls in Engineering. Volunteer for organizations that allow grass roots approach to connecting to students. And when you give lectures, figure out the way to add personal connections to the people you are speaking to as a way to truly make an impact.
“Be a ladder, be a lamp or be a lifeboat” to someone coming up the pipeline – and create the spark moment that will turn into career successes.
Oh, and Mrs. Williams - I never told you thank you. You probably never knew how much you impacted my life by that one simple gesture. Students -- thank your awesome STEM teachers for everything they do!!