August 10, 2007Her job: Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
Currently, I am a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UMBC. I teach freshman engineering design to students who have just completed high school and started college. In that course, we learn about the things engineers need to make them successful. We also build something like a hot air balloon, a chemically powered car or a water balloon launcher. In the summer I teach your teachers how to teach engineering in the middle school. They learn how to build air-powered cars, marble sorters and catapults. Sometimes I do reasearch to try to figure out what gets girls interested in engineering and what keeps them in engineering in college. But the best part is talking to students about why I think engineering is a cool career!
Why did you choose engineering?
When I was a little girl, I launched model rockets in the backyard. I thought it was a lot of fun to build the rocket, launch it and try to catch it when it came back down. My dad would take me flying in our airplane and I loved taking the controls and flying around. In elementary and middle school, I really liked math and science, but the best part was that I liked being better at it than most of the boys in my class. In college, I first wanted to be a computer scientist, but then I worked on designing parts of ships by using a wind-tunnel and I got hooked on Aerospace Engineering. I was a much better engineer than a computer scientist!
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I got my Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla (soon to be called the Missouri Institute of Science and Technology), my Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas-Arlington and my PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland-College Park.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
After I graduated from college, I went to work for Bell Helicopter in Texas. The best part of my job was that I got to go down to the flight testing facility and fly in the helicopters to learn more about how they flew. Then I would design flight simulators that flew like the real helicopter. I even got to fly the helicopter once! That was really cool!
What do you like best about being an engineer?
The best part about being an engineer is coming across a challenge or problem that needs to be solved. I put on my thinking cap and, using all of the training I have, I design a solution. It is even more fun when you work on a team with other people to solve the problem! Then you get the benefit of everyone's experience and knowledge.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I think the best part about being an engineer is that I can have a family as well. I am most proud of my family - my husband and two boys. A second runner up would be that I was the first woman to receive a PhD in Aerospace Engineering in Rotorcraft at the University of Maryland.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
A few of the professors that I had in college told me that women should not be engineers, so I proved them wrong by being the top student in their class. When I started work, I had to work with some guys who thought women could not be engineers. I worked hard and did my best and soon they wanted me to be the handling qualities engineer on all of their projects!
Please tell us a little about your family.
My husband is a mechanical engineer and my father was an aerospace engineering professor - I even had him for 3 classes - ugh! I have two middle school aged boys who love to play soccer and lacrosse. They are also interested in LEGO Robotics.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
I hope to become a tenured professor in the next couple of years - that means that I can continue to teach at the university for many years to come. In the long-term, I would like to become an associate dean of engineering so that I can focus on recruiting and retaining women in engineering.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
I guess that my mom and dad influeced me the most since they always told me that I could do anything that I wanted to do. Sally Ride is pretty cool, too!
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
My best advice - don't let anyone stop you. Try to find a woman engineer that will coach you through the tough times. Keep taking math and science in school and don't let the boys do all of the fun hands-on stuff!
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I like to watch movies, read, play soccer and volleyball, and travel with my family.