Mentoring the subsequent technology of executives with the “Introduce a Lady to Engineering” initiative
Serving the next generation of leaders, innovators and engineers is critical to the success of the aerospace industry. Girl Day is a global campaign to introduce a girl to engineering and how these engineering careers can change our world. During these events, girls can see the paths that the previous generation of women paved before them – one that could lead into space.
Unlike previous years, this year’s event was virtual, but organizations like Collins Aerospace worked with local schools to produce interactive Introduce a Girl to Engineering events across the country.
A spokesperson who supported this initiative was Joan Higginbotham, retired NASA astronaut and director of Human Exploration Primes at Collins Aerospace. Higginbotham found her love for engineering early on and once said she was “born an engineer”. Her passion for engineering resulted in her being one of three African American women in history to spend 308 hours in space while operating the space station’s remote manipulator system.
Higginbotham highlighted three pieces of advice for those looking to start a career related to STEM. The first was to “believe in yourself”. She said that there would be many challenges and obstacles along the way and if you believe in yourself it will help you overcome these obstacles. The second was “work hard” and found that the curriculum for the STEM field is challenging but worthwhile. The last piece of advice she gave was to focus on “perseverance”. Higginbotham announced that it was only after her second application that NASA selected her as an astronaut. When she applied for the first time, she only made it into the interview round. But she went back with more training and applied a second time. If she hadn’t tried again and persevered, she would never have been selected as one of the 15 crew members for the mission.
But not everyone who enters engineering knows where it will lead them. During a Collins Aerospace panel with the information management systems team in Annapolis, MD, a group of five female engineers came together to discuss their career paths. Many of the panelists did not go straight into a technical role.
Christina Hayden, Senior Process Engineer at Collins Aerospace, found her interested in art and music. She explained to an audience of middle school students that she followed her passion for music and the arts by studying audio technology and website design. She graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she was able to combine her interests. “You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do right away,” said Christina. “Just keep learning and as long as you follow a path you design you will get there.”
Jaya Aswani, platform and data services product manager, joined Collins Aerospace almost 13 years ago as a radio communications software developer. During her career at the company, Aswani stated that she had the flexibility to move into different departments and work on new challenges. “Engineering provided an environment where I could build flight decks and cockpits for government and commercial aircraft and then switch to the business side, where I am now creating a digital marketplace for the aviation community.”
Suzanne Cullens, Technical Project Manager at Collins Aerospace, also attended Girl Day and presented her career path. She agreed that the engineering allowed flexibility. Cullens has been with the company since 1987 and has researched various technical roles throughout her career. From an analyst to a programmer to a systems engineer, Cullens now acts as the liaison between the engineering and project management teams. She discussed how technology is constantly evolving and never repeating, which makes it a very exciting professional field to explore. “There are many options and you just have to decide what you like to do.”
Participants across the country have been exposed to women who have found their own way in engineering and technology. By interacting with the women who came before them, this younger generation now has the opportunity to go their own way and explore new and innovative roles in shaping the future of the aerospace industry.