Erica Messinger

When Breakthroughs Start Small – Nurturing a Love of Engineering from a Young Age

Blog Post created by Erica Messinger Employee on Apr 12, 2017

Keysight recently launched a new video featuring Rosana, a young girl who loves to solve problems and became an engineer. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it, and how many times watching it pulled at my heartstrings. A very strange response to a spectrum analyzer video. See for yourself.

 

The video’s inherent shout-out to women and underrepresented engineers feels so needed in a time where we still have just 12 percent women engineers working in technology today. And the trend has been flat. This is a business issue and a human issue.  It represents a

significant economic opportunity. In fact, in the recent Decoding Diversity report published by the Dalberg Global Advisory Group, it was noted that “improving ethnic and gender diversity in the U.S. technology workforce represents a massive economic opportunity, one that could create $470-$570Bn in new value for the tech industry, and could add 1.2-1.6% to national GDP.”

 

The video got me reflecting about when I first decided to become an engineer. As a young girl, despite attending a STEM-focused middle and high school, engineering wasn’t even on my radar. No one in my family had been an engineer and even more so, no one in my family knew what an engineer actually did. Besides, my sights were set on becoming a professional ballet dancer. Fortunately, when I was told I would never be able to dance again at age 16 due to chronic injuries in my legs, I had a female physics teacher who planted a seed about engineering. My path to healing peaked my curiosity around signaling pathways in the body and I sought to understand electrical currents. I ended up heading halfway across the country to study electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Little did I know how much I would come to enjoy the learning and the challenges posed, and be grateful for the possibilities that awaited me after graduation.

 

Some girls (and boys) know at a young age that they wish to become an engineer. And the challenge is keeping them interested and confident that they can succeed. Others have not yet even considered the possibility or have perhaps discredited the suggestion. Having the positive encouragement and role model of a female physics teacher in high school made all the difference showing me the possibility and giving me the needed confidence.

 

The importance of role models is something I’ve been deeply contemplating as I’ve become mother to two young children and am troubled by the dearth of children’s literature to read and inspire them with smart, positive female characters. Where are their role models? What kind of gender roles am I teaching my son and my daughter about what girls and boys can be, and how they can contribute to society?

 

This subject of role models is getting a lot of attention this year, especially following the box office success of Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same title. The story shares the untold contributions of three brilliant mathematicians who were critical to the NASA Space Race and were also African-American women.  The movie has begun a movement bringing mainstream attention to the dramatic underrepresentation of women and racial/ethnic minorities in STEM fields.

 

Who are the role models you wish to see?  Who might you have wished you had as role models?

I welled up with tears when I first viewed the Keysight video. We need more of these stories. Rosana will certainly be a role model for my two children and hopefully for other young girls. It is up to us, women and men in engineering, to help one another and the younger generation explore the possibilities. To be positive role models and present what is possible, encouraging more young girls and boys to consider and pursue engineering, so that they know, regardless of gender, they can become whatever they want.

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