In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM, we spoke with Springer Nature author and professional engineer, Dr. Pamela Norris, who shares her experience as a woman at the forefront of the women in STEM movement.
In a recent talk for the Springer Nature Women's Network, Dr. Norris presents data on the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering and computer science in the United States and in comparison to other nations. She makes the case for the value of diversity and offers concrete suggestions for ways in which we can communicate that value and help attract a more diverse population to become future engineering and technology leaders. Watch her talk below.
I think perhaps the biggest obstacle has been myself. I have made the mistake of assuming, at times, that I was given an opportunity, an invitation, an award, merely because I am a woman, when in fact, my credentials stand on their own and I have received such opportunities because I EARNED them. It’s taken me a while to come to this realization. This has certainly resulted in a delay in me finding my own voice and becoming a vocal advocate for the benefits of diversity in our engineering work.
I decided to become an engineer in fourth grade when I learned that my two favorite topics, science and math, were the fields upon which engineering is based. When I attended college orientation and was told most of what I would be learning in my engineering studies was “critical problem-solving skills” and “with these skills you can become anything you want to be,” I knew I had made the right choice. I think it’s important for kids to recognize that you don’t need superior math and science talent to become an engineer; these are just two of the important tools in an engineer’s toolkit. To succeed in engineering, you have to be creative and inquisitive, with a passion to make a positive impact on the world, and you must be armed with a solid toolkit including communication skills, creativity, teamwork, statistical skills, ethics, etc., along with strong math and science abilities.
Perhaps most impactful was my high school math teacher, Ms. Duke, who challenged me and supported me in my love of mathematics. She actually encouraged me to compete in a state math competition, where I placed 2nd my sophomore year, and that was a huge boost to my confidence and convinced me I could succeed. Then my mechanical engineering department chair, Prof. Robert Ash, at Old Dominion University, where I attended as an undergrad, was the reason I even considered graduate school. And he helped me through the application process, actually walking me over to the library to show me how to research the different graduate programs so that I could find the right match for me. Then Prof. Bill Wepfer very actively recruited me to Georgia Tech and ultimately became my advisor and convinced me to stay for my Ph.D. And Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien arranged for me to come do a post-doc in his lab at Berkeley. Chang-Lin taught me how important it is to tailor your advising approach to each individual student, and my time in his lab truly changed the trajectory of my career. I could go on and on; there were so many mentors along the way.
It is imperative for the security and future survival of our nation and world that women and others from many diverse backgrounds contribute
About Pamela Norris