#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 University of California, Berkeley faculty members Alice Agogino, Amy Herr, Grace O’Connell, and Lisa Pruitt, as well as students Jasmine Gipson, Sravani Kondapavulur, Helen Park, and Lilla Smith.
Why did you choose engineering?
Grace O’Connell (GO): Whenever anything broke in the house my dad would, before we threw it out, he would say “let's take it apart just to look inside.” And that was actually a lot of fun for me because it didn't matter because it was already broken, so we could break it even more. We got to learn a lot about electronics and any kind of mechanical devices as well. And when he would fix things around the house he would tag me along, so I got to learn how to fix a toilet [laughs] so that got me interested in engineering.
What advice would you give to young girls coming into engineering?
GO: Try it! It's worth it. It's a lot of fun especially if you like playing with things. It's like continuing playtime every day.
Amy Herr (AR): I think the biggest thing about being an engineer, which I think appeals to both many men and women, is this ability to really make a difference with your life. And I feel like how I spend by a workday is trying to work towards that goal, just leaving the world a better place and that's what engineers do.
Jasmine Gipson (JG): This is a working prototype that I just just finished. It’s a new type of robot called a tensegrity robot and they're planning on using this robot to explore Titan in the future. The whole purpose of this robot is to think outside of the box. When you think of space exploration and robotics you think of the Mars rover, you think of, like a robot that looks like us. If it goes off a cliff, it'll hit and then it will spring back. Would you like to see how it works? Hopefully it'll… [laughs]. If I... So it'll slowly walk and explore and possibly hold the payload in the center and then, if it were to fall off a cliff, the payload wouldn't damage itself and the robot itself wouldn’t be damaged.
What advice would you give to a young woman pursuing engineering as a career?
Alice Agogino (AA): It's so versatile. There are so many different fields of engineering and an engineering degree allows you to do so many things in the professional world. But I also recommend industry or nonprofit experience that really grabs your passion, that you're excited about. Don't compromise on the jobs that you accept. Do something that's really meaningful for you.
Lilla Smith (LS): You know, you're going to have tests that you do poorly on and it is going to be hard. But it is going to be the most rewarding thing you could ever do.
Sravani Kondapavulur (SK): Engineering is what you make of it. If you want to design something, if you want to create something, if you have ideas and you want to make them happen, engineering’s a great field to do it in because there's so much application that you can get out of it and so much of a difference that you can make with it.
Helen Park (HP): Explore the different kinds of engineering out there, because there's so many different types from planetary, to civil engineering, to mechanical engineering. Just learning lots of different types will help you get a better idea of what engineering is really all about and help me make a choice on what kind of engineering that you interested in doing as well.
When you were younger did you think you were going to be an engineer or do what you do today?
Lisa Pruitt (LP): My dad is an aerospace engineer and I think he always thought of me as an engineer, and I always thought of myself going into medicine. So I think at some point there was a juncture. So when I went to college I actually pursued chemical engineering thinking that would be my pre-med path, and then I took an undergrad course in materials and became smitten with that topic. And then at some point I couldn't imagine anything but engineering as my pathway.
So you think without him you'd probably be a doctor right now?
LP: I think in my own mind I thought that I would pursue medicine. You know, interesting enough, my research area is medical devices, so I work with surgeons, I carry an appointment over in the medical school at UCSF because I do medicine, but I do it from an engineering vantage.
Yes, you got the best of both worlds.
LP: I got the best of both worlds. [bell ringing] Here comes our bell!