#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute.
Watch interviews with Ashley Micks and Vidya Nariyambut Murali from the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Palo Alto, California.
What are some of the projects you've worked on here at Ford?
Ashley Micks (AM): So we're trying to put together a simulation environment so we can work on autonomous cars in there more safely.
So autonomous cars are basically cars that drive themselves?
AM: Yeah, but there are also other things that you can have in the meantime. Driver assist features like a car that just parks itself while the person is still there using the gas and the brake and then the car does the steering part. So there's, yeah, intermediate stuff before it's fully like, without a driver.
What activities were involved in as a teenager?
AM: A few of my friends and I actually tried to put together our own musical in high school. Like a very small cast, like five people. And then of course I was always involved in video games. I mean video games are sort of, you know, related to the simulation stuff that I'm doing now. We're working with gaming engines.
What subject in school challenged you the most?
AM: Challenged... Well, I mean, aside from like, you know, gym [laughs]. And, you know, I do recommend taking writing classes, because no matter what industry you might want to be publishing patents or just being able to communicate well with your peers about your projects.
Who are people that have inspired you?
AM: In particular you know I've always been inspired by Star Trek. Not just, you know, the ability to explore the galaxy but to do it peacefully and to have this future world where people are able to, you know, attempt, at least, to look past politics and try to resolve those things.
Who are some specific people in Star Trek that inspire you?
AM: Well, I mean I really like Jean-Luc Picard. He's one of the best captains. And I really like the fact that he loves Shakespeare, you know. He's got the complete works of Shakespeare in his office.
How does science fiction help with becoming an engineer?
AM: Without science fiction, you know, you would be without any kind of vision of the future that you might be trying to create. People have been thinking, at least to some extent, about autonomous cars for decades. They wouldn't do that if they weren't willing to, you know, imagine that far into the future.
Growing up, what was your family life like?
Vidya Nariyambut Murali (VNM): I grew up in Bangalore in South India. My father was also an electrical engineer.
Who is a fictional female character who inspired you?
VNM: The Scarlet Pimpernel, I was really inspired by the lead female character in that book. Her name is Marguerite Blakeney. She stood for everything that wasn't inherited. So she basically believed that money and titles are maybe hereditary, but brains are not. So, I used to like her spirit so I think she was a character whom I really liked in fiction.
What advice would you give to a young woman who’s considering pursuing engineering?
VNM: There's a bit of a struggle and you shouldn't be afraid of that. The most important thing is not to be afraid to pursue a career in engineering. Just be brave and you have to work hard and be focused. Don't just be friends with just engineers, so you need also be friends with people who are studying arts and also people who are studying humanities. And also try to be friends with people who are not like you.
AM: So what draws you to engineering? Is there anything in particular that you want to do?
I'm thinking about doing civil engineering. I think it's really interesting. I could make a bridge and everyone will be using that. It would be like my creation. I think it would be really cool if the first autonomous car drives over my bridge.
AM: Well you should hurry up because the first autonomous car might be in place before you get to college. If we're lucky!
Is there an inspirational quote that you could offer me?
AM: “The first duty of every Starfleet officer [changes to clip of Jean-Luc Piccard from Star Trek: The Next Generation] is to the truth, whether it’s the scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth. [changes back to Ashlee] It's the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based, and if you can't find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth, you don't deserve to wear that uniform.”
Last question: Can I give you a hug?