Playing With Robots Inspires Women Engineers

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Amber Williamson, Ashley Little, Courtney Crawford, Sandy Norwick
Amber Williamson, Ashley Little, Courtney Crawford, Sandy Norwick

Four Mountain Home women inspire girls to study engineering by getting involved with the robotics team.

Amber Williamson
Amber Williamson

Amber Williamson, 25
Engineer I
Baxter Healthcare

What inspired you to go into engineering?

My inspiration to pursue engineering came from the FIRST robotics team that I was on in high school. Before I was on the team, I wanted to go into the medical field as a doctor. Engineering was not even on my radar at that time. Then in my senior year, my best friend and a teacher of mine both asked if I wanted to join the robotics team. They thought it might be something I would enjoy. So, I joined FIRST Team 16, the Baxter Bomb Squad. The experiences I had on the team introduced me to engineering as a potential career field, and my entire life changed in less than a year. I was very involved with the design and construction of the robot, which only fueled my interest in engineering. I went on to attended the University of Arkansas and major in mechanical engineering.

What do you love about what you do, or hope to do, in the case of the intern and student?

I love that my career challenges me and that my work is always changing and evolving. It is not always easy. I do not always have all the answers, but I work hard to come up with them. As a mechanical engineer at Baxter Healthcare Corporation, I am working on solutions that can ultimately save lives. What’s not to love?

How does your involvement in the robotics team make you feel about engineering, whether you are a mentor or student?

I feel good about the example I am setting for the students. I hope that my involvement in the robotics team shows them that engineering is a rewarding and attainable career choice for anyone and especially the girls that might be a little shy about jumping in to unknown territory.

What do you wish other women knew about choosing a science like engineering?

If engineering is something you are interested in, I say go for it. Traditionally, many women did not consider engineering as a possible career choice because there were so few role models in the field to show them that they can do it. I wish that other women realized that not all that long ago most career fields were dominated by men. It’s not so far in the past that most women did not work at all. As we know, women eventually joined the work force, and now the ratio of male to female has started to equal out in most career fields. Engineering is still somewhat behind the times in this department, but we are continuing to change that. Those first few woman that started careers when so few woman even worked were pioneers of their day. Woman who choose careers such as engineering now can blaze the trail for others and become role models for the next generation.

Has engineering changed who you are as a woman or girl?

I think that engineering has enhanced who I am as a woman. The biggest change that I have noticed in myself is that I am more confident. I am still feminine. I still enjoy decorating, reading, and all the activities that I have always enjoyed. Now, I feel more rounded and like this is where I was always meant to end up. In the end, yes, engineering has changed me.

Sandy Norwick
Sandy Norwick

Sandy Norwick, 40
Principal Engineer
Baxter Healthcare

What inspired you to go into engineering?

When I chose to study engineering, I didn’t know a lot about it. My brother was studying engineering, and I knew it was challenging. I have always liked to be challenged. I think the shortage of women in the field was somewhat of a challenge as well.

What do you love about what you do, or hope to do, in the case of the intern and student?

I love being on the forefront, looking at that next thing that’s going to improve the process. It feels like solving a puzzle, and it’s very satisfying.

How does your involvement in the robotics team make you feel about engineering, whether you are a mentor or student?

I wish I had had the opportunities that FIRST provides when I was a student. I wish I’d had the opportunity to see what engineering is about, and to be hands on with mechanics and software even before learning the theory of it. I was involved in FIRST robotics years back, as a mentor, but have spent more time with the FIRST LEGO league program. The exposure the kids get to engineering at such a young age is amazing. Seeing engineering in this more simple form makes engineering more accessible to them, less intimidating.

What do you wish other women knew about choosing a science like engineering?

It’s difficult, but it’s achievable. Don’t be intimidated by it.

Has engineering changed who you are as a woman or girl?

I don’t think engineering has changed who I am. Like any career, you gain confidence as you get better, learn more, become more proficient. But I’ve always thought about things like “how does that work” and “why is it that way?,” and I’m just really lucky I found a career where I can use that.

Ashley Little
Ashley Little

Ashley Little, 21
Electrical Engineering Intern
Baxter Healthcare

What inspired you to go into engineering?

Math and science were always my favorite subjects in school, and I’ve always enjoyed solving puzzles. But, I didn’t put that together with engineering until I was a junior in high school. My parents suggested I tour schools as an engineering major and I was officially hooked when I toured the UofA and learned about the research they were doing with Nanomedicine.

What do you love about what you do, or hope to do, in the case of the intern and student?

I love that I will have a direct impact on people’s lives. I have always been interested in medicine and especially medical devices, but I’m way too queasy to be a doctor! I hope to continue on a path at a place like Baxter where my work can improve the health of other people and make their lives easier.

How does your involvement in the robotics team make you feel about engineering, whether you are a mentor or student?

I was not lucky enough to experience FIRST robotics in high school or younger. My first encounter with a robotics team was this past year at the University of Arkansas. I am an active member in our Lunabotics team and the officer of outreach in the club. We volunteer our time as mentors at the local junior high and high schools to help inspire the students to continue on an engineering path. I absolutely love helping the kids work through their projects. Their hard work and collaboration never fail to impress me.

What do you wish other women knew about choosing a science like engineering?

Women need to know that engineering is just as fulfilling as any other profession or activity. It takes research, hard work, creativity and confidence to engineer a great piece of equipment. Engineering is fun, and very rewarding!

Has engineering changed who you are as a woman or girl?

Engineering has changed my life by increasing my confidence. Majoring in electrical engineering and interning at Baxter Healthcare has proved to me that I am smart and capable of achieving all of the dreams that I have to change the world. At the same time, I’m still able to enjoy hobbies and activities like decorating and fashion. It’s important to have a good mix of serious and fun pursuits in your life.

Courtney Crawford
Courtney Crawford

Courtney Crawford, 16
Mountain Home
High School Junior

What inspired you to go into robotics?

By being a part of the robotics team I got the opportunity to work alongside professional engineers, solving difficult problems. Watching our robot compete against other impressive teams and be successful was what truly inspired me; knowing I helped make that happen.

What do you love about what you do, or hope to do, in the case of the intern and student?

I love the challenge that engineering offers. You’re given a problem that you have to solve in the best way possible and you never know what might happen. For example, something might not work and you have to figure out another way to solve the problem in a limited amount of time. It challenges the way you think because if you truly believe that this one idea is going to work, and then it doesn’t, you have to be quick on your feet and say, “All right, Plan B,” even if you don’t have one yet.

How does your involvement in the robotics team make you feel about engineering, whether you are a mentor or student?

Being on the robotics team has definitely given me a sense of respect for engineering. Most people have respect for medical careers because they make people feel better, and I respect them too, but doctors wouldn’t be as successful if not for the technology that was designed and created by engineers. The huge amount of time and effort I’ve seen go into creating a robot that plays a game is only half of what it takes to work on the technology hospitals use.

What do you wish other women knew about choosing a science like engineering?

I would like other girls to know that women can be successful in engineering. I think that what repels most women or girls from a science like engineering is the fact that they are women and engineering is comprised of a mostly male population. The male engineers who mentor our robotics team treat me just the same as the male students on the team. They are just as hard on me as they are on the male students, not because I’m a girl; they treat me the same because I show the same level of interest as the boys, and they believe I can handle it.

Has engineering changed who you are as a woman or girl?

The robotics team has changed who I am as a woman because it has made me more confident and trusting of my ideas and opinions. I don’t second guess myself as often as I once did.

M! August/September 2013

 

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