We Need a Pipeline of Talent. It’s Time Girls See Themselves in STEM

It’s Time Girls See Themselves in STEM

I’m a geek. Introverted, shy, and at times socially inept. At the same time, I am highly motivated by seeking solutions, gaining deeper knowledge and executing change.

In the eighth grade I discovered a fabulous career choice that dealt with my favorite subjects, math and science, and also placed me in a community of like-minded individuals: engineering.

What it Means to Be an Engineer

At the time, I had no idea what that meant, but the career speaker said this was the path for me so from that moment on I was determined.

Ultimately, I pursued a BS and MS degrees in mechanical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University, which enabled me to work in a variety of positions and industries. Each work culture had positives and negatives; what they all shared was a low percentage of people of color and women in technical roles.

There are tons of articles that attempt to figure out why numbers are low.

My personal observation is that this population may not be informed of the greatness of this career path. They may fail to recognize existing skill and talent that will be enhanced with time. And, they fail to “see” themselves and find support in these roles.

Problem defined. Solution?

Get involved.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.” – Howard Thurman

My passion to be the change led to my current role as Early Career Engineering Development Manager and STEM outreach ambassador. I am working to help techie students – and especially girls – recognize their potential in a STEM field. I often say, “You don’t have to be Einstein to be Einstein. Like any diamond, you just need time and the right environment to let yourself cook.”

Change Starts Here

We have developed an awesome “cooking” environment – our Rockwell Engineering Pathway Program (REPP).

Read more about our commitment to STEM education in our Corporate Responsibility Report.

REPP is a hands-on, real world work environment that challenges interns technically and provides mentoring and coaching support.

I have the privilege of managing these interns and each year I’m amazed by their ability, energy, enthusiasm and drive. Additionally, because of my experiences, I have the ability to provide insight when they face problems and encourage them to seek other resources as well.

One student stood out this past summer. During her interview, she stared at me and asked if I really was an engineer. She mentioned that people told her women couldn’t be engineers because they lacked the skills needed.

I took great pride in hiring her and revealing her abilities so she could show others that they were wrong. She became a software test engineer.

Her greatest learning this summer was not just about the company and engineering projects. She realized it didn’t matter what shortcomings people think they see, what matters is knowing your potential for success.

Discovering STEM: For many young students, skills learned in science and math classes feel disconnected from their daily lives. Science, though, is everywhere. Students simply need to know where to look. See how the Rockwell Automation-sponsored exhibit featuring FANUC robots at Milwaukee's Discovery World is sparking students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

What You Can Do

We lose so much STEM talent because students can’t overcome the obstacles.

If, like me, you want to help students see their potential in STEM:

  • Introduce them to people in the field – doing work that’s fun, exciting, interesting. Help dispel the myth that STEM is all about sitting at a desk and a computer.
  • Visit a classroom. Almost every time I walk in to a school, I have at least one girl ask me if I’m a real engineer.
  • Mentor early professionals. It wasn’t until I was in the field for a decade that I got a mentor. Ask someone. And if they say no, ask someone else. It’s that important.
  • Be an advocate. If you want to see more women and more people of color in STEM, then get active in professional and student-focused organizations, like FIRST, that promote STEM – and make it fun.

Every student has a contribution to this world. Don’t let our STEM talent shy away from these careers because the goals seem out of reach.

Karen Leak
Posted February 3, 2017 By Karen Leak, Manager, Early Career Engineer Development, Rockwell Automation
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