Stem Femmes

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.

Sheila Boyington

Founder and CEO :: Thinking Media/Learning Blade® National States Chair :: Million Women Mentors®

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.”

Holly Bean, PMP

Exterior Engineer Specialist :: North American Engineering & Planning Center, Volkswagen Group of America

Holly Bean’s roots are in Detroit, so it isn’t too surprising that her career is in the automotive world. “Growing up in the Motor City, cars were always in my life in some aspect,” she explains. “As I got older, my passion for cars only grew. Combining this passion with my mechanical aptitude and love for math and science, the natural selection for a career was mechanical engineering.”

STEM Skills in Action Bean’s professional career in manufacturing began at assembly plants, where she held positions in both production and quality. After several years in manufacturing, she decided to move closer to the beginning stages of the vehicle life cycle and transferred to development. “I enjoy the challenge of developing new products and making components fit into the bigger puzzle: the vehicle,” she explains. “Concept testing, adjusting designs, and change management required me to be extremely organized, manage my time efficiently, and to collaborate effectively within a team.”

Choosing a STEM Education Helping people understand that STEM encompasses a wide variety of different fields and positions is important, according to Bean. “Far too often, students aren’t aware of what’s available,” she says. “Find a mentor who can help you gain a broader perspective of the vast scope of possibilities.”

Climbing the Career Ladder The path to a successful career takes skill to traverse, and Bean recommends constantly increasing knowledge and diversifying skill sets. “Take charge of your own career—no one is going to pave the way except you,” she says.

Words of Wisdom “Be proactive with your future—don’t fall victim to the stereotype that women don’t belong in STEM industries,” Bean says. “Women in male-dominated fields are sometimes told they don’t fit in and have to work harder to gain the same respect as their male colleagues. But women do play an important role in STEM industries and are critical to their overall success.”

Melissa Meade

Mechanical Design Manager :: TVA

A high school guidance counselor helped Melissa Meade decide to study engineering. But first, she had to figure out what an engineer actually did. “I entered the program not having any idea what an engineer does, but knowing that engineers make a good living,” she says. “I chose mechanical engineering because of the flexibility offered, and because I wanted to design roller coasters.”

STEM Skills in Action After college, Meade joined the engineering department at TVA’s Sequoyah Nuclear Plant. “It wasn’t designing roller coasters, but it was fun!” Meade says. Her responsibilities included testing water systems, which involved setting up gauges with maintenance technicians, establishing the conditions with the plant operators in the control room and in the plant, and measuring data throughout the plant. After several more position changes at TVA, where she continued to hone both soft and hard skills, she began a position with TVA’s business planning organization in March 2016.

Climbing the Career Ladder Meade was inspired to follow a career in STEM, and she encourages others to do the same. “A huge variety of opportunities exist in STEM,” she says. “I strongly encourage young women to pursue an engineering career.  There are many opportunities in a variety of fields where engineers contribute to the betterment of society. At TVA, engineers serve in maintaining the environment, supplying energy for the valley, and providing for economic development in some of the most depressed areas of the country.”

Words of Wisdom Meade’s years in STEM positions have given her plenty of opportunities, as well as advice to share with other women. “Take advantage of each opportunity. When you’re in a meeting, don’t be shy—speak up. Be willing to take chances and reach for new opportunities. Women tend to wait until they feel they are ‘ready’, when, in fact, they typically don’t give themselves enough credit and are ‘ready’ much sooner,” she says.

Kim Bales, CPA

Shareholder :: Elliott Davis Decosimo

As a Certified Public Accountant, Kim Bales has served in a business and tax advisory role her entire career. In her current position, she helps clients minimize tax liabilities and solves complex tax matters. This involves understanding intricate IRS and state regulations that involve mathematical calculations which impact a taxpayer’s taxable income, tax deductions, tax credits, and other business issues.

STEM Skills in Action “I fit the stereotype,” Bales says of her draw to the STEM field. “I was attracted to this type of career because I am ‘good with numbers’ and like math. I also enjoy helping people and solving problems, and this type of STEM career allows you to do both.”

The availability of excellent-paying jobs in the profession was also appealing to Bales, along with the diversity of challenges that STEM jobs have to offer. “I often say that I learn something every day,” she says. “This career affords a variety of levels of work, and most firms offer training opportunities as a foundation for the more difficult work the field has to offer.”

Choosing a STEM Education Bales wasn’t always on the accounting path—she was a nursing major before she switched to accounting after two years in college. “I’m certain that choice probably saved a lot of lives as a result!” Bales says. “Choose a college major and career path that you love doing, and don’t be afraid to tweak it along the way.”

Climbing the Career Ladder “My motto has always been ‘work hard, play hard’, so I recommend you invest in your STEM career early to gain the knowledge you need to progress,” Bales advises. Opt for an internship in the field you’re interested in, she says, and find a mentor who can help you advance your career.

Kate Miller

Chief Information Officer :: UNUM

Starting her career as a programmer for a consulting firm, Kate Miller, now CIO at UNUM, moved into software development, where she built software products to take to market and implemented off-the-shelf software for large customers. Over time, she advanced into management roles, leading teams in delivering technology solutions for different organizations.

STEM Skills in Action “Even at a young age, I was always an active user of technology,” Miller says. “I found that I was able to help others learn to use technology to do different things. A career in technology was just an evolution of my natural interests—applying technology to solve problems.”

Choosing a STEM Education Technology is a part of every aspect of today’s world—and that’s why Miller feels STEM fields will only continue to become more important. “Behind all that technology are people—building the technology, using it, and helping others to use it,” she says. “Technology transcends all industries, so no matter what your interests and passions are, you can apply technology in that area.”

Climbing the Career Ladder Miller offers two simple words as a summation of what’s needed for a woman to succeed in STEM: no fear. “In my opinion, that philosophy is one that will help women overcome natural inhibitions that impede their career growth and development,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if there is the chance of failure. Don’t be afraid to volunteer or put your name forward for different projects, jobs, or opportunities. Don’t be afraid to speak up and express your ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to work on the hardest, biggest, most challenging initiatives going on in the company. Don’t be afraid to take on leadership roles and responsibilities, all the way to the highest levels of a company.”

Lolita Jackmon, PMP, MBA

Director, IT Project Management Office :: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

With the help of analytical skills gained from a degree in microbiology at Howard University, Lolita Jackmon has continued to develop her STEM skills through a variety of roles.

STEM Skills in Action Jackmon’s first job after college was at the American Public Health Association, where she helped to develop national health standards. From there, she moved on to a position at the National Academy of Sciences. When she entered the corporate environment as a project administrator and scheduler, she was required to think linearly to determine what activities need to occur in what order to achieve the desired outcome. “I’m attracted to this type of work because it’s similar to performing a science experiment—you make a prediction, make a plan and follow it, observe, record results, and draw a conclusion,” she says. “Throughout my career, the ‘science’ side of IT project management is what has fascinated me.”

Climbing the Career Ladder Studying and learning from the careers of successful women is vital when navigating a career path, Jackmon says. “Xerox CEO Ursula Burns studied engineering in college and spent her entire career at one company. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi got her B.S. in physics, chemistry, and math and worked at different companies during her career. Make it your personal goal to study the paths of STEM trailblazers so you can choose to follow their path or blaze your own trail. This is a lesson I learned while pursuing my executive MBA at the University of Maryland.”

Words of Wisdom Being the only woman or one of only a few women in a room may be the reality in a STEM profession, Jackmon says. Her advice is threefold:

  • Don’t be afraid to speak or ask questions. “You are in the room to agree, disagree, or offer an alternative. Diplomatically make your perspective known.”
  • Extend yourself and your support to the other women in the room. “The camaraderie of others on a journey similar to yours is priceless.”
  • Find a mentor and be a mentor. “As you seek
    someone to be your sounding board, also be that
    for someone else.”