In July, I was honored to be a part of an awards ceremony to honor 100 Women Leaders in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the U.S. Every woman in the room had done remarkable things in their careers, and thanks to a variety of reasons, had chosen a field within STEM.
Inspired by that event, as I’m inspired by my daily work running the Department’s SMART (Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation) scholarship for service program, I think about how I arrived where I am today and how we can motivate a new generation of women to consider this career area.
There are five key things that I think are critical:
Exposure: The more exposure women receive to a variety of different areas throughout their educational experience and work life, the more seeds will be planted that will help position them to accept future opportunities in leadership positions. Exposure to STEM and great leaders, in particular, are keys to success and achievement.
This exposure keeps you motivated to do your best.
In high school, I thought that an engineer was someone who drove trains. But after a summer program exposed me to the civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering tools, I was hooked. I am the beneficiary of that “Women in Engineering” program and I have never looked back.
Preparation: It is often said, “luck is where opportunity meets preparation”. Success is sometimes viewed as luck because there are elements of timing, sponsorship, etc. but preparation has played a large part in that success. Preparation involves study to focus on what you would like to do when you grow up, and what steps, i.e. courses, schools, programs can best prepare you for your dream job.
Preparation is practice; it’s on-the-job training in the form of teaching, researching assistantships and internships. Such experiences give you the opportunity to try out a career for a period of time.
Mentoring: My concept of mentoring is a continuing legacy from my association with my own mentors and role models. It means to lead by example, transfer knowledge, keep hands on the protégé for a short period, then let them fly, and lend an ear, hand, or give advice only when needed.
Sponsorship: Opening doors, in an active way, to give access and open opportunities is critical to sponsorship. Sponsorship is advocacy for individuals who may or may not have the chance but for the good word of a sponsor on their behalf. Sponsorship may be covert or overt and is critical to success.
Networking: Last, don’t forget to network. Do not be afraid to ask for help by consulting your network of family, friends and teachers.
Our goal as technical professionals should be to provide experiences to our younger generations, including young women, by mentoring them throughout their careers, preparing them to deal with whatever comes their way, creating an environment where it is OK to fail and encouraging them to assist others along the way. Please join me in this important effort.
From Dr. Laura Stubbs
Director, Science and Technology Initiatives