Girl Day 2021: Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Engineers

by Sina Flynn
Feb. 25, 2021 | Back To Explore

Girl Day is a worldwide campaign to engage girls in engineering. DiscoverE‘s new report, Despite the Odds, found that when engineers, educators, and others act as Role Models, facilitate engineering activities, and educate girls about how engineers change our world, it helps young women develop an interest in engineering, builds their confidence in problem-solving, and creates a stronger “STEM identity.” 

This week, we reached out to a few of our own female employees to better understand what sparked their interest in engineering and what resources can help inspire the next generation of female engineers.

What inspired you to pursue engineering?

Sina Flynn: Hands-on activities at an early age and being immersed in the engineering field is what inspired me to pursue engineering. At age 6, my dad showed me how to disassemble and rebuild a computer. As a grew up, I watched my mom put together different pieces of AC units, my stepdad build a mechanical engineering company from scratch, and my stepmom become a leader in her company as a very successful systems engineer. The inspiration I gained watching my parents led me to pursue my passion when I was younger and continues to inspire me today as I learn and build on my skills.

Skylar Dematteis: Growing up, I loved playing PC games that were building-oriented. Two of my favorite games were The Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon. The Sims allows you to build your own home from scratch, pick out paint colors, finishes, house layout, landscaping and site elevations to create ponds or a beautiful house on a hill. Roller Coaster Tycoon lets you build and run your own amusement park by picking the roller coaster types, locations, staff and park themes. You can even design your own roller coaster from scratch and virtually ride it!

D’Anna Dininny: My dad is an engineer and that is what inspired me to go into engineering. I remember the moment I decided to pursue an education in mechanical engineering. GE Aviation, where my dad worked, had “Family Days” where family members could come to the plant and take a tour. I shadowed my dad while he was in Quality Control (QC). Between seeing what he did and talking to his co-workers, my career path was set. I think getting females into the workplace and job shadowing are essential to show what exactly engineering is and what you can do with it. I am always up for a challenge – and helping to diversify the statistics around the number of female engineers seemed like a great challenge to meet.

Another thing that piqued my interest is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I got involved in SWE my sophomore year of college. Seeing a community of women in engineering nationwide was a huge inspiration as I entered this career.

Kristen Smith: I was inspired to pursue engineering in high school after getting the opportunity to meet two female engineers that worked in the rides and attractions department for Disney. One was an electrical engineer, and one was a mechanical engineer. I was fortunate to visit their office where they walked me through the types of projects they were working on. It was so impressive to see the behind-the-scenes work, and I quickly started to take an interest in engineering careers.

Sarah Musser: To be honest, in high school and college it just didn’t occur to me that I was joining a male dominant field. I’ve been lucky my path included women as engineering professors and as leaders within the firms I’ve worked for. Yes, I understand that I’m in a minority group, but I feel it has often helped me in my career.

(A team member who wishes to remain anonymous): As a kid, I wanted to be a residential architect. However, growing up, I didn’t have any support from my family. I applied to many universities and was accepted, but I wasn’t allowed to go away to college. I had to work my way through architecture school. During the week, I was a drafter for a local home builder and on weekends, I worked at the mall.

Following some unfortunate events, in September of 2006, I found myself homeless for about six weeks.  I was still going to school at night and working during the day. I found an apartment and kept going. I graduated in 2007 with an architecture degree and two certifications (in CAD and residential design). I was also president of the AIA Student Chapter. Unfortunately, around the time I graduated, the housing market crashed and the recession began. I was hopeful that I would stand out to my current employer as a recent graduate ready to transition from part-time to full-time. Instead, I was laid-off and was subsequently laid-off three more times within a year. Luckily, I had experience with Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) design. This enabled me to find full-time work as an MEP drafter. I fell in love with electrical design right away and haven’t turned back since.

Someone told me once, “If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.” That’s how I feel about electrical design. Every accomplishment begins with the tough decision to try. If you don’t have the right resources or the love and support from your family, it makes achieving your dream all the more difficult… but NOT impossible.

What currently inspires girls to pursue engineering?

Sina Flynn: Because my mom and my stepmom were engineers, as a kid, it never occurred to me that female engineers were a minority. When I think about it today, I realize what encouraged me, and built my confidence to pursue engineering was seeing these two strong role models. Children are inspired by what they see, and Engineer Girl is an organization that is trying to do just that by providing opportunities to connect/do events with female engineers currently in the industry. I recommend visiting their website and seeing what they have planned to inspire the next generation of female engineers!

Skylar Dematteis: I think that seeing other women in engineering is the best way to inspire girls to pursue engineering. When I was a kid, there were not many engineering figures to look up to that were female. Now, there are resources all over the internet featuring different women in engineering, and even several movies featuring female engineers. One that really struck a chord with me is the movie, “Hidden Figures”, which is about a group of female engineers working for NASA and is based on a true story. This is a newer movie and is a great way to see how powerful women in engineering can be!

D’Anna Dininny: I believe knowing your worth and knowing what you can accomplish is a huge motivator to enter engineering. So many girls think engineering is “too hard” or they are not smart enough. I think resources like this are what inspires girls to pursue engineering. Talking to women in engineering – women who have been in the industry for years, women who are fresh out of school, and women who just entered school. Hearing from women in every walk of life answered questions I didn’t even know I had about engineering!

There are two women at Campbell University (NC) that are fantastic influencers: Dr. Jenna Carpenter and Dr. Teresa Ratcliff. These ladies do all they can to encourage young girls to think about engineering as a career path. From bringing Girl Scouts troops into the engineering school to reaching out to girls through FIRST Lego Leagues, Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Ratcliff are radically changing the statistics! #steminist!

Kristen Smith: I think in today’s world, girls are inspired by meeting or learning about other female engineers. I think media plays a huge role, whether it’s a Netflix documentary, an Instagram account or a podcast. The more young women see and learn about the work of female engineers, the more empowered they feel about pursuing a career in a male dominant industry.

Sarah Musser: Growing up I loved Lincoln Logs, but if you can’t find them, I recommend KEVA: Contraptions, TimberBlocks or Himiku Blocks. All are great options. Also building forts, both inside and outside. I would build them out of anything I could find lying around, but these days there are amazing kits for building fort frames. And lastly, a great kid’s book is “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” by Andrea Beaty.

Leah Weinberger: I would say Minecraft is a great way to engage kids in engineering. My son is really into building things in that game.

Alex Lowrie: A few things that led me down the engineering path and may inspire others: Volunteering with MATHCOUNTS, Marble Runs (a personal favorite), coding (I can code in 6 languages – super fun), science museums (Kaleideum is my favorite science museum – very hands on – in Winston-Salem, NC), the book “Wool” by Hugh Howey (the protagonist Juliette is amazing – great for high school students and older) and most importantly, mentors (I met many mentors through MATHCOUNTS –seeing women engineers there was very inspiring)

We hope the stories and recommendations will inspire you to make a difference in a girl’s life and bring more future female role models into the incredible field of engineering.

Special thanks to:

Sina Flynn, PE | Structural Engineer

Skylar Dematteis | Civil Engineer

D’Anna Dininny | Mechanical Engineer

Kristen Smith | Mechanical Engineer

Sarah Musser, PE | Structural Engineer

Leah Weinberger | Structural Technician

Alex Lowrie | Sustainability Engineer