National STEM/STEAM Day was founded on Nov. 8 in 2015 to encourage students across the globe to pursue interests in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. It is purposely recognized on Nov. 8 because ‘Nov8’ is a numeronym pronounced, ‘innovate’. The day is especially meaningful to me, because ‘innovate’ is what I get to do every day. Unfortunately, I exist in a small minority in the golf industry as a female engineer. While it is a bit surreal to know that I am a statistical anomaly, I am grateful that a company like PXG recognizes talent above gender.
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While there have been some gains in representation in STEM careers according to sources like the Pew Research Center; most women work in health-related science fields with engineering being in the lowest percentile. 74 percent of women in STEM in 2019 worked in health science and only 15 percent worked in engineering. This lopsided breakdown gives me pause and a sense of responsibility to share what worked for me in my academic and professional journey to hopefully inspire other young women to go against the grain and pursue their passions.
Overcome bias and stereotypes. Throughout grade school, my family never discussed school subjects as if they belonged to a particular gender; my parents encouraged me to explore all my interests and celebrated my successes no matter the magnitude. This environment and my family’s support prepared me to push past stereotypes in school and life and to challenge them when instances of gender bias would arise.
Seek out hands-on experiences and learning. My senior year of high school, I was introduced to 3D printing, computer-aided design, and robotics in an elective physics course. I immersed myself in projects using these STEM tools building catapults, battle bots, and even hoverboard prototypes. I quickly realized I wanted to pursue a degree and a career in engineering. Being curious and creative in STEM spaces at a young age shaped my professional trajectory, boosting my confidence to help me land my dream job at PXG.
Seek out collaborators and mentors. When I first set foot on Rice University’s campus in 2017, I had a clear vision of how the next four years would play out. I initially kept my studies to myself, believing I worked most efficiently on my own. However, I quickly realized that the key to success in a rigorous field was finding peers to collaborate with, learn from, and go through the highs and lows with. Opening myself up to offer and ask for help when needed is one of the greatest lessons I have learned. The best solutions are born from brainstorming and ideating as a team in school, on the job, and outside of work.
Translating technical skills to life skills. The engineering design process is a series of steps applied to each new project. It is an efficient way to break down the project’s solution into a multitude of smaller objectives. This allows the team to identify all areas of concern, tackle issues, and innovate on many levels. The skills I learned in the classroom and in the industry have improved my problem-solving skills in my social and adult life, as well. I relied heavily on my technical mindset to successfully move across the country on my own to start a new job and new life. This seemed like such a monumental adjustment, but when I broke it down into smaller steps, I landed in the best possible place for me.
Throughout my academic and professional journey, there have been many days when the work pushed me to my limits. I have had moments of doubt and frustration. However, my toughest projects are always the ones I am most proud of. Looking back, I am so glad I stuck it out and believed in myself to find my place in a field where people like me are few and far between. To anyone interested in pursuing an education or career in STEM, my advice is to stay in tune with your interests and aspirations. If you are passionate about engineering, coding, or the arts, and you have a clear vision for what your future holds, the only thing stopping you from achieving your goals is yourself. Trust yourself. Focus. And get to work!
Author: Grace Wilson is a Product Test Engineer for Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG), responsible for designing numerous automated systems and tools for the club production floor in the company’s headquarters based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Grace holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in engineering design from Rice University.)