Companies today compete in a fiercely competitive global economy, and the winners will be those who are first to invent and produce innovative products. Moreover, STEM knowledge will be essential for companies to develop new technologies needed to manufacture better, produce smarter products, improve health care, preserve the environment, and make informed decisions on issues that will impact the way of life for people around the world.
Understanding the need for STEM skills, it is not surprising that economic projections show a need for over 1 million STEM related jobs in the next decade, of which many will pay wages double the U.S. average. Unfortunately, the demand for professionals in STEM fields is projected to outpace the supply of trained workers. STEM participation and achievement statistics are especially concerning for women. While women constitute the majority of students on college campuses and roughly 46 percent of the workforce, they represent less than 20 percent of STEM related bachelor’s degrees and hold only 25 percent of STEM jobs.
The good news is many women are leading top STEM professions. The six local women profiled here represent just that, as they are leading important roles in STEM-related positions. Their successes further support the opportunity for women to advance in roles requiring these very important skills.
With two engineering degrees in her pocket (a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Florida and an M.S. in civil and environmental engineering from UC-Berkeley), Sheila Boyington has earned credit as an engineer and an entrepreneur, and she continues to inspire other women to enter the STEM field.
STEM Skills in Action Boyington’s first job after graduating college wasn’t the most glamorous. As a project engineer at Black & Veatch in San Francisco, she managed teams that videotaped sewers to determine what design issues engineers could resolve and improve upon. From there, she had the opportunity to complete a master’s degree before she and her husband, Dane, moved to Chattanooga. “I first took a job with Hensley-Schmidt, where I worked as an engineer designing plans and doing project engineering,” she says.
Choosing a STEM Education “There’s a huge demand, and we’re not putting enough students into the pipeline to make sure they’re getting exposure to STEM,” Boyington says. “The number one reason all kids, boys and girls, are not majoring in STEM is not because ‘science is too hard’ or ‘they don’t like math’—it’s because they don’t know about the careers. We’ve got to introduce kids to these careers in a more systemic way, and we have to increase mentoring efforts. Learning Blade was created to put more students on the path of these high-demand careers.”
Climbing the Career Ladder A background in these fields can be extremely helpful when pursuing any career, according to Boyington. “No matter the STEM background, you can pretty much do anything,” she says. “You can go to law school or med school, or lead a company. With my engineering degrees,
I really felt empowered to go into different fields.”
Words of Wisdom “Take what you’re good at, and start trying to translate that into a career,” Boyington says. “Look at the higher level courses in a college catalog, read the details, and see if you’re interested. That will start to hone you in on what your career or degree might be.”