STEM panel gives career advice

Students and faculty at the panel.
Students and faculty at the panel. Courtesy of the Gordon Hom

STEM: An Interactive Panel on Finding Success in Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math took place in the BC Library Collaboratory and students were encouraged to ask questions of the panelists.

Cynthia Wang answers a question.
Cynthia Wang answers a question.
Renaise Kim / The Watchdog

This seminar is part of the BC Reads program, which previously hosted other STEM seminars, such as one that centered around “The Martian” by Andy Weir, wherein an astronaut who is stranded on Mars uses his STEM knowledge to stay alive. BC librarian Wilma Dougherty said “It was the Martian’s knowledge of STEM that enabled him to live and ultimately be rescued from being stranded on Mars. […] Our programming is talking about where STEM can lead us.”

Renaise Kim / The Watchdog

Other sponsors included the BC Career Connections and Women’s Center, STEM to Stern program and Rise Learning Institute. The Career Center is dedicated to helping all BC students and community members achieve their career goals. Ruth English, an employee in the center, said “women are historically underrepresented in STEM areas, and we want as many women as possible to think about this career.”  Lindiwe Rubadiri Mujugira, program manager in the center who works with BC’s STEM to Stern program, said “the focus of this panel is on women in STEM, but men will benefit from the presentations too.”

studens listening to event
Renaise Kim / The Watchdog

The panel was moderated by Christina Sciabarra, associate director of the Center, and according to Mujugira, the lead on BC’s STEM to Stern program. Panelists described career paths they have taken, projects they have worked on, their greatest obstacles and successes, what they wish they had known when they first launched their careers, the status of women in STEM fields, and their major non-work interests. Sciabarra introduced the panelists and said, “Your stories show that there are ways you can take your interests and combine that with what you are learning. I put together a lot of career panels, but this one has been the most impactful.”

One panelist, Dr. Fatma Serce, is an assistant professor with BC’s newly-accredited computer science program which allows students to earn a four-year bachelor of science degree in computer science, according to the BC website. She said “I am from Turkey [and] have been teaching computer science for more than 7 years.” Dr. Serce was the first professor to teach Android applications in Turkey. “I’m so happy that I’m doing what I want to do. Teaching young people keeps me fresh.”

Dr. Nathalie Voisin described her experiences as a hydro-meteorologist engineer. She said “I was interested in science very early and took a science track.” She studied engineering, which allowed her to “work on water resources and really merge science and engineering. It’s my dream job.” Dr. Voisin is an engineer with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Mathematics instructor Jennifer Townsend said “When you start to see the mathematics world beyond calculus, there’s a lot of creativity there.” She noted that BC’s STEM to Stern program “does a good job getting experience and getting work experience” for BC students.

The panelists emphasized that they enjoyed their field of study and careers. Cynthia Wang discussed how she became interested in STEM: “I liked numbers ever since I was a young girl. I went into engineering and did about 7 years of real engineering work. Some of that was working for NASA.” She is currently director of market development with IBM Cognitive Solutions. She also noted that sometimes it was difficult to break into a male dominated world. She earned her MBA at Colombia and then went to work for IBM, where she has worked for 17 years. “In order to have your career in STEM, you really have to have the mindset that learning is a never ending thing. I had to go back and learn to teach myself new computer programming languages. I really love that aspect of what I do. My advice is to think hard and be honest with yourself and think about what makes your life meaningful in the end.”

Another panelist, Liza Ray discussed her experiences working for the Science Education Specialist for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center: “I’m always learning, always trying to improve.” She explained that sometimes students interested in STEM topics feel like they are the only ones interested in pursuing science, but that is not the case. “STEM can be really hard, especially the intro classes, but most things in life that are hard have a big payoff. I’m happy with my career now. Create opportunities for yourself.”

The final panelist, Dr. Grace Mwangome, Ph.D, food safety manager with Amazon Private Label, said “I listen to these women and I’m like wow. Science can take you places. For me, I started my education in Kenya, East Africa. When I lived, there were times when there was not enough food. I had always wanted to know about food. Right now, […] my job is to go where they make their food and make sure they understand what the risks are and how they are controlling them. I’m like a health inspector for Amazon. My obsession is that people don’t get sick when they eat our products.” She advised students, “Learn how to prioritize and set times for yourself to balance work and life. Because at the end of the day, you want to be happy.” Like the other panelists, Dr. Mwangome emphasized that she is happy with her career, and recommended that students “Spend time with yourself, and know yourself […] follow your passion.”

For students interested in pursuing a STEM program, BC’s STEM to Stern program helps students access “a supportive learning community” and “meet mentors from companies such as Boeing, Microsoft, Puget Sound Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration” according to the BC website. STEM to Stern helps students exploit hands-on opportunities through internships and research experiences. Similarly, the Rise Institute encourages innovation both inside and outside the classroom, facilitate the greater integration of service and community engagement into the BC culture and promotes a wider range of experiential learning opportunities for students, according to the BC website.