So, I just found out March is Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science & Engineering Month. As someone who likes science, but who struggles with math (like long division. Okay, fine. Like division, multiplication, and some addition in my head) I thought it'd be fun to interview a woman in the field of engineering or science. And guess what? I know a gal. My sister is an engineer. Score! I was really lucky she agreed to do this interview, because she's isn't too crazy about the limelight or talking about herself. #humble So, thank you, Kristi!
Kristi has made a career in engineering ever since finishing her time in the U.S. Army and graduating from the Maine Maritime Academy. She lives in central Maine, relatively close to me. She enjoys time with her family and her black lab Bella. She loves hunting, fishing, and relaxing at camp. Keep reading for this Interview with a Female Engineer and be ready to share these insights with your high school daughter or niece. This is good stuff - true Maine advice and inspiration (simple and rooted in common sense and life experience)!
What made you choose a career in engineering? Did you always have an interest in science and math? Were they your favorite subjects in school?
I chose engineering mainly because of the school I ultimately ended up attending. I was halfheartedly looking at schools before I got out of the Army and came across Maine Maritime Academy (MMA). I loved that most of their class offerings were very hands-on and that most of the classes were oriented towards the degree. Having been in the military, it appealed to me that I could utilize the skills we would learn while in school. I learn better when I can see it, so I thought: Hey, this is something I think I can do. I didn't hate math/science, but they were not my favorite subjects. I liked History best.
What made you choose to sign up for the Army after high school?
I was floundering. My first try at college ended with me quitting. I was just hanging around in a dead-end job and a recruiter called, and the rest - as they say - is history.
I’m sure there are many lessons and life-changing experiences you had during that time… what was one of the best places you visited, traveled-through, or were stationed in?
I would say that Germany was the best. It was such a beautiful country and you could access so many other countries from that location. It is still one of my favorite places. (I remember, she sent me a beautiful necklace with a pendant and inside was a grain of rice with my name written on it - it was mesmerizing for a little girl.)
What is one lesson you learned or piece of advice you could pass on to girls who are considering joining the Armed Forces today? What was a major obstacle you faced during your time in the Army - being female?
This advice is for both males/females actually, but I would suggest you think about what you are expecting to get out of your time there. Sometimes it's hard to know, but ask yourself if you plan to stay in for 20 years or just a short time? Are you looking to be able to learn skills that you can use to land a job when you get out? Are you looking to get money to use later for school? All of these answers will help you make the right choice when you choose your branch/job in the military. Does the job transition well into a civilian career? Does it offer the GI Bill plus College Fund (they may call this something different now) which gives you a lot more college money when you get out. Do your research - some branches have a lot more offerings than others.
I don't know that I faced too many obstacles as a female, but I would say (it's probably universal to most things and there's not much we can do about it) and that is the lack of physical strength compared to our male counterparts. It seemed to always be at the forefront of most things we did. It especially showed up during morning Physical Training - if you can't keep up during morning runs or during exercises it was very much noticed. It has been known to keep women (and men) from being promoted if they cannot keep up with physical requirements and training, but it is especially harmful to women. (I love the candidness of this.)
What was a major obstacle you faced during your time at college - being in the female minority?
It's hard being in a male-oriented learning environment, because women aren't usually as confident in their abilities as men. We like to know exactly how something is going to go before we do it. Guys tend to jump right in whether they really know it or not. Both traits have good and bad aspects, but it affects us the most because we tend to miss out, either because the guys crowd us out or we let ourselves be afraid or timid and just stand back. (I read these few sentences over a few times. Confidence, bravery, resilience, and an excitement to try new things... how do I encourage these traits in my own daughter? How do I encourage these things in myself? How do I jump into new things with brave excitement even when I don't know how it's going to go. Because I think a lot of us do this. We think and analyze and try to have everything figured out before we take the first step. And also I love how she touches on the need for a balance of both the female and male energies - we are all equal and we have differences. We need both and we can learn from these differences in approaches.)
Looking back on your career in engineering - what were some of your biggest wins, losses, or lessons? Was it what you hoped it would be? What’s one of the pros of a career in engineering?
For the most part, I really enjoy the work. It is diverse and there are plenty of opportunities for growth, and some personal wins/achievements. I would say the biggest con for me is the really horrible work/life balance that I have. I did not expect at the time that I would be living in my hometown, but if I had known what I do now then I would have looked to find a job that would keep me home. Other than that, I have been successful in my job so far and it has been a satisfying work experience.
The schedule you have - with the travel - must be hard. How do you juggle parenting and a relationship with all of the time away?
Yeah its hard, but I try to work my schedule so that I can leave early on Friday and get home for supper. I would not be able to do this work without Jon's support (her partner). He understands and never gives me a hard time about it. I have to say No to a lot of things I would like to do while I'm home, but I also know that it is not fair to him - so you have to sacrifice sometimes. Unfortunately, we all have to work. Hopefully, I will be able to retire sooner or find something closer to home and be done with the traveling. (Kristi drives from Maine to Massachusetts every Friday and Sunday; living out her career in a separate state than her personal life.)
What would you say to a young girl in high school or college - looking to become an engineer or considering the Armed Forces?
Think about where you want to live. What type of jobs are available in your area? There might be plenty of work there, but if not, you have to be prepared to live elsewhere or you may want to find a different career. The military is a great option if you're unsure of what you want to do or if you would like to have some money for college later. It's a great option as a career, too, but don't forget the real reason you are there as well as the dangers involved with that commitment.
How do you think mothers could help their girls embrace, strengthen the skills of, or even fall in love with math or science?
Hmmm, good one. I think little projects that they can work on would be great. I have always been interested in doing things with my hands and fixing things. Girls are naturally left out of those kinds of activities around a normal household, but I don't think they should be. When they are small, you can take them to science museums, have them build small kit projects, talk about the kinds of jobs they could do when they get older that are based in science and math. As they get older and more capable with their hands, have them help with some of the household chores. I think they should know how to mow the lawn, change a tire, change the oil in their car, and be involved in small home repair projects. Most of these activities they should know because they might have to do them someday or should at least have an appreciation for the task. The more independent we can make our daughters the better off they will be. (Yes!!!) For example, I thought MMA was a males-only school! I didn't realize it wasn't until I looked through the catalog. It was
never presented to me as an option in high school and I doubt it was to any of my female counterparts either. We need to stop buying into the "boys do this and girls do that" school of thought. I think there is nothing better than a diverse workplace - we need that balance - too many men or too many women in the workplace is a bad thing.
Thank you a million times over to Kristi for sharing. I took away a lot from this interview. The nuggets of wisdom kind of sneak up on you in here. As a woman and a mother to both a girl and a boy, some of these themes really interest me. I want to give you even more practical advice with useful resources you can take home and use, 'cause I really like usefulness.
So, check out these great STEM resources for girls that I've dug up and linked to below:
If you're interested in getting your daughter involved in activities that can round-out her abilities and empower her to be brave and confident, check these out!
This is cool! We need STEM, too, even if we're 'all grown up' (or mostly grown up). Use some car or cooking time to catch up on a podcast, or read some exciting news, about the latest STEM developments involving women.