SWE Scholarship Recipient - Kierra S.
The Full Interview
What does SWE mean to you?
As a young woman first starting engineering school, I found myself being one of the only women in my classes and at my internship. I knew when I chose engineering that only 11% of engineers are women. But, when I first sat down in the classroom, I still felt out of place and uncomfortable. In search of somewhere I could fit in, I decided to join the Society of Women Engineers. Through SWE, I found a group of driven, intellectual women who were struggling through some of the same things as me and it was with them that I found a great support system of female engineers. SWE has helped me build my confidence and be brave as a woman in a male-dominated field.
How did you get involved with SWE?
My mom has been in SWE for as long as I can remember. As a child she would sometimes bring me along to her group’s meetings. The women in my mom’s SWE group took me under their wing and in doing that, gave me strong, female role models to look up to and who still mentor me to this day. This group of powerful women in STEM influenced my decision to pursue engineering in college where I then joined WSU’s SWE chapter almost two years ago.
What are you studying in college?
I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Mathematics.
When you were young, what were your interests?
As a child, I spent a considerable amount of time at my grandparents house. I loved spend time in the garden with them looking at bugs and taking care of the flowers. I also enjoyed making mysterious concoctions with miscellaneous ingredients from their kitchen which I referred to as “science experiments”, (I used to convince my reluctant family members to taste test my creations which they were not fond of). When I was almost a teenager, I became fascinated with makeup and hair and spent many hours watching makeup tutorials on YouTube - I know, this is not the typical response you would expect to hear from a person majoring in engineering.
Did you have any interests that lead you to choose engineering for a career?
In high school, I took a CATIA (Computer Aided Design) course offered by WSU at my school. The class was full of challenges and intriguing engineering related tasks that I had never experienced before. I became fascinated with the engineering world and then decided to pursue mechanical engineering in college.
When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you were grown? What about in middle school?
I had absolutely no interest in being an engineer in elementary school or middle school. I didn’t know what an engineer really did at the time. However, in middle school, my family moved to Toulouse, France for two years where I became trilingual. Throughout middle school and most of high school, I wanted to use my language skills to go into international business. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I decided I wanted to be an engineer.
What are your goals for the future?
As of right now, I want to pursue the aerospace and defense industry when I graduate from college.
What was your favorite memory about Expo?
My favorite thing about Expo every year is talking to the kids about their interests in science, seeing them learn new things, and watching them have fun! No kid leaves Expo without having fun and learning something new.
What do you enjoy about engineering?
First of all, I won’t lie, engineering school has been the most challenging thing I have ever done. The endless hours of studying, learning and doing homework (not without tears I might add) really wears down on a person. However, I have always enjoyed a challenge and that’s what motivates me to be driven and successful. I love working hard at something and then seeing that hard work pay off on a test or a project at work. Second, engineering is a team sport. No one completes engineering school or has a successful career in engineering on their own. I love the support system I have found through pursuing engineering in college. I have found some of my closest friends because of it. It is so important to have a few shoulders to cry on in engineering school (both literally and figuratively). Lastly, STEM careers allow you to pivot. When I first started college I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just knew that I wanted to try out engineering. One of the reasons I chose engineering is that I knew going into the engineering field would allow me to choose between spacecraft, automotives, biomedical, and anything else I could think of. I’ve had an internship at the National Institute for Aviation Research for two years now and during this time I have been a part of several interesting projects. To name a few, I’ve worked on a project designing a space rocket that will be launched from the biggest airplane in the world into low-Earth orbit, I’ve been a part of a team researching and testing materials that could revolutionize the way we design city infrastructure, and I’ve also gained experience by doing CATIA for a few different aerospace companies. There are no limits in the engineering world which excites and inspires me to keep going.
What advice do you have for our readers who want to follow their dreams?
If you’ve read this far, you have probably learned that I’m not a stereotypical engineer - I’m a woman in a male-dominated field, I haven’t always been interested in pursuing a STEM career, and I didn’t even want to be an engineer until my senior year of high school. Despite my differences, I know what I want to accomplish, I know that I’m a hard worker, that I’m driven and that I’m resilient. That is how I persevere and remain successful in school and at work, even if I don’t fit the typical engineer “mold”. My differences give me a tool that I use to be successful. So, my advice to you is this - if you have a dream, it doesn’t matter that you don’t fit the mold for what you want to do. Be confident in yourself and be ready to work hard to achieve your goals.