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Mothers’ Day Special: Meet The Women Who Are Reinventing The World With Science And Curiosity

When Katherine Blodgett became the first woman scientist working in GE’s labs in 1918, she already held the distinction of being the first female to earn a PhD in physics from Cambridge University in England. In 1923 GE hired Edith Clarke, the first woman with a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also the first female electrical engineer in the entire United States. Despite the progress, when Betty Lou Bailey helped design the company’s first supersonic jet engine and America’s first weather satellites in the 1950s and 1960, only “one percent of the engineers employed by General Electrics were women,” she told a newspaper.

Things have changed since. Blodgett, Clarke and other pioneers have inspired a generation of engineers, scientists, researchers and medical specialists. What unites these engineers, past and present, is their curiosity and passion for learning new things, figuring out how things work and working hard to make a difference. “I can’t remember ever not knowing that I’d go into a career where I could do the same thing,” says GE scientist Kristen Brosnan. “Otherwise, it would be just a job.” To celebrate Mothers’ Day, we reached out to some of them and asked them about their work.

Lara Crouch is an occupational health nurse at GE’s locomotive plant in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by @laurenmarek and @carrasykes.

Who inspires you? “My mother. She’s always taught me two things: if you love what you do, you will be a success, and if you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”

How did you choose your career? “I was hospitalized for an infection when I was 12, the care of my doctors and nurses inspired me to pursue a career in the medical field. I started as a combat medic in the U.S. Army and later got my Bachelor of Science in Nursing.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in science? “Search for books that interest you. My personal favorite was Laurie Garrett’s “The Coming Plague.” Find out what company is doing the most exciting things and try and work there. Surround yourself  with like-minded, motivated people.”

Kara Hall is a Production Control Leader at #GE’s Manufacturing Solutions Facility in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s been working with us for 4 years.

Kara Hall works at the same locomotive factory as Crouch as production control leader. Photo by @laurenmarek and @carrasykes.

Where do you go for inspiration? “I remember when I was younger, my mother was never afraid of tools. If she wanted something done, she’d just do it herself. That taught me to enjoy working with my hands too, whether that’s putting parts together on [locomotive] production floor, or doing my own home improvements.”

What keeps you going? “My little girl. I want to be able to give her every opportunity she wants.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in pursuing scientific careers? “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you are open to asking lots of questions, I feel that’s when you are most open to learning and growing.”

Katharine Dovidenko is a Fuel Cell Program Leader for GE. Photo by @linaxli

Katharine Dovidenko builds fuel cells at GE. Photo by @linaxli

Why did you choose a career in science and engineering? “I’ve been fascinated with science and technology since I was five. My dad led a radio amateurs club for teens and he used to bring me along, well before I was a teenager myself. I got to play with radio stations and ‘help out’ in a small machine-shop they had. I couldn’t get enough.”

What keeps you going? “The people I work with; their talent and passion for finding solutions and their collaborative nature on the most technical challenges.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in science? “Go for it! Try things at school, summer programs or labs.”

Kristen Brosnan, Ph.D. is a Ceramics Laboratory Manager at #GE Global Research center in Niskayuna, NY. Photo by @linaxli.

Kristen Brosnan has a PhD and manages a ceramics laboratory at GE Global Research. Photo by @linaxli.

What sparked your curiosity for science and engineering? “My siblings and I spent a lot of time playing outside, creating our own adventures with what we had around us. We built worlds out of dirt, trees, bugs, sticks – you name it. The outdoors was the place where I learned to explore and bring my imagination to life. I can’t remember ever not knowing that I’d go into a career where I could do the same thing.”

What keeps you going? “I’m inspired by the people around me and the technology we work on. No day is ever the same!”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in a career in science? “Choose a career path you are passionate about. I love what I do and I am lucky to have a career in a field that I love. Otherwise, it would be just a job.”

Nayeli Romero is an Inventory and Cost Lead at GE’s Manufacturing Solutions Facility in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s been working with us for 17 years. Photo by @laurenmarek and @carrasykes.

Nayeli Romero works at GE’s locomotive factory in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s been working at GE for 17 years. Photo by @laurenmarek and @carrasykes.

Who inspires you? “My mom. As a physician, she was very into science and technology. Early in high school, I got interested in biomedical engineering because of my mom’s background. She inspired me to pursue a career in STEM.”

Do you have a favorite scientist, inventor or engineer? “I really admire Katharine Burr Blodgett. She was the first woman hired by GE to work as a scientist, and during WW II she contributed with important developments on military applications like gas masks, smoke screens, and a new technique for de-icing airplane wings. Her most influential invention: non-reflective glass.”

What advice would you give to young girls who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM? “Pursue your dreams with hard work and creativity. These are great foundations for a career where you can make a difference.”

 

Sonya Jolivette is the Shop Operations Manager at the CMC Lean Labs in Evendale, Ohio. She’s been working with us for 11 years. Photo by @katerentz.

Sonya Jolivette is an operations manager at the CMC Lean Labs in Evendale, Ohio, when GE develops a supermaterial for jet engines called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). She’s been working at GE for 11 years. Photo by @katerentz.

Who inspires you? Growing up, there was a librarian who gave me books to read and advice on how to find my own path. She opened up the doors so I could find out more about science and technology.”

What sparked your curiosity for science and engineering? “As a young child, I was given the opportunity to have some small tools. I loved taking things apart, and I loved exploring how things worked. I’d also take things that had one purpose and make something totally different– I had a tape deck and I made it into a pottery wheel.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in pursuing a career in the sciences? “I have my own daughter build and install things… It’s just a matter of knowing you can do what you want to do. There’s nothing that dictates your future other than yourself.“

Stephanie Conrad is the Shop Operations Manager at #GE’s Additive Technology Center in West Chester, OH. She’s been working with us for 11 months. Photo by @katerentz.

Stephanie Conrad is the shop operations manager at GE’s Additive Technology Center in West Chester, OH. Photo by @katerentz.

What made you interested in science and engineering? “I was always curious about how things worked and why things happened. I worked with my Dad a lot around the house, and I remember wanting to understand the science behind building things, and what had to go where and why.”

Why did you choose a career in the sciences? “To me, one of the coolest things is combining art and science – being able to make something out of nothing. I always had a knack for science and math, so there was no question in mind that I wasn’t going to be an engineer.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in pursuing scientific careers? “Don’t be afraid to learn, to try and fail, and try again. That’s a lot of what we do here – learning from failure.”

Laura Dial, Ph.D. is a Metallurgist at GE Global Research. She analyzes different types of metals to determine which will best fit GE manufacturing projects. Photo by @linaxli.

Laura Dial is a metallurgist with a PhD at GE Global Research. She analyzes different types of metals to determine which will best fit GE manufacturing projects. Photo by @linaxli.

What made you interested science and engineering? “I knew fairly early in high school that I would likely follow a STEM career since I really enjoyed my math and science classes.  But it wasn’t until late in college and even graduate school that I really knew exactly what kind of career I should choose!  I actually selected my undergraduate institution partially based on the wide variety of STEM-type majors it offered.”

Why science? “I had several female professors and mentors throughout college who always encouraged me. They helped me gain the confidence to pursue a PhD in materials science and engineering. Without them, I’m not sure I would have made that decision. I love my work because it keeps me inspired. I get to work on solving real-world problems. When you work in a research and development environment, you don’t always have a ‘breakthrough’ every day, but when you do, it keeps you energized for months.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in pursuing a career similar t yours? “I think that experiencing some level of doubt is natural when thinking about your future career.  However, it certainly should not be for any reason related to being a female in a STEM field!  Nothing is stopping you!  Go for it!”

Tiffany Westendorf is a Senior Chemical Engineer for at GE Global Research. She makes sure chemicals meet the highest safety, quality, and engineering standards.

Tiffany Westendorf is a senior chemical engineer at GE Global Research. She makes sure chemicals meet the highest safety, quality, and engineering standards. Photo by @linaxli.

Who inspires you? “My mom went back to school when I was in middle school to renew her teaching certification for math. She showed by example that it is always worth investing in yourself in the form of education.”

Why did you choose a scientific career? “When I took applied physics in high school, I had to make a Rube Goldberg machine to show that I mastered Newtonian mechanics.  My partner on that project and I had so much fun creating this utterly ridiculous device. It felt really satisfying to run a calculation that gave us clues how to design the machine, then almost immediately test and adjust our design accordingly.”

What advice would you give to young girls interested in following your example? “I’m continually inspired by Hedy Lamarr’s story. She was a movie star in the 1940s, but she was bored with how few roles there were for women. So she turned her attention to invention. She patented military radio guidance technology that ultimately informed Bluetooth, wifi and mobile phones. Hedy’s story is part of what I’d tell any woman who wants to go into STEM: follow your curiosities and be open to new opportunities to learn and grow.”

Andrea Schmitz is a Senior Sensor Electronics Engineer at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, NY. Photo by @linaxli.

Andrea Schmitz is a senior sensor electronics engineer at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, NY. She develops sensor technology that detects information to make machines safer and more effective.  Photo by @linaxli.

What advice would you give to girls interested in going into science? Follow blogs that talk about women scientists and engineers. Don’t be afraid to speak up, ask questions or answer them. Get to know your math and science teachers. I‘m lucky to have had several great teachers. They were strong women who encouraged me to experience as much as I could, without putting up any gender barriers or pretenses. We need passionate scientists and engineers who want to make a difference. I love that my work will help change people’s lives, even if they won’t know it directly.”

 

 

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