This year marks the 33rd annual BEYA (Black Engineer of the Year) STEM Global Competitiveness Conference. That’s 33 years of celebrating outstanding STEM achievements, celebrating diversity, and celebrating camaraderie and community.
As I head to the conference for the first time, I am looking forward to meeting new people and gaining new experiences. But I’m also reflecting on my own path in STEM.
BEYA stands for “Black Engineer of the Year,” but another tagline the conference promotes is “Becoming Everything You Are.” This idea resonates with me: as a woman and a person of color, the odds were stacked against me becoming an engineer. But even as a child, I knew that was who I was meant to be.
Here I am today, a mechanical project engineer at an industry-leading plumbing manufacturer, beating the odds at a great company. STEM is a hugely important field, growing in diversity and numbers all the time.
So, what exactly has helped me get to this point? Here are some of the key things I’ve learned so far:
1. Don’t let fear stop you from being curious.
If you have even a slight inkling that it might interest you, take every chance you can to explore. Don’t be intimidated by the word STEM. I had somewhat of a head start at this because I attended a technical high school. But I seized the opportunity to take college-level Calculus, and even graduated with certificates in welding and automatic robotics — all before even starting my bachelor’s degree.
Several years later, I was presented a leadership development assignment to enhance the strategy and business side of my training. Again, I went for it. And it has made all the difference, both in my career progression and in my passion for engineering.
2. Find (and be) a mentor.
STEM is about so much more than the work. Connecting with and learning from people who share my interests has been an incredible experience. Most recently, as I pursue my MBA, I have sought out the advice and experience of people whose work I admire. They give me the renewed energy and insights to keep going.
On the flip side, I volunteer with students at our local high school as part of a program to expose them to STEM careers. I also participate in Kohler Co.’s Women@Work business resource group, collaborating with fellow professional women to enhance our work experience.
3. Network, network, network.
Yes, what you know counts. But sometimes it really is who you know. Part of the reason I’m so excited to attend the BEYA STEM conference is the opportunity to network with people that have a similar background, and those that don’t; there’s something important to learn from both.
Ever since high school, it’s been my network that has helped me move forward — letting me know of open positions, recommending me for jobs and volunteer opportunities, and providing guidance when I needed it. No matter where you are in your career, it’s important to have people beside you that can speak to your work and are rooting for you.
4. Keep dreaming.
I love making products come to life. From a sketch to a computer model, from prototypes to fabrications, all the way to the end consumer. This has been a dream come true for me, but it’s not my final destination. Once I started to peel back the layers, I discovered the wide array of career paths driven by math and science. Engineering is more than just numbers and equations. It’s analyzing systems, predicting outcomes and managing how it all fits into the greater business objectives.
My ultimate goal is to be a vice president of engineering. A role where I can still be part of the day-to-day bringing products to life, but also understand how to grow the business and optimize our resources. I am fortunate to work at a company that has appointed women to such leadership roles — including the vice president of my division — and I draw motivation from that every day.
The BEYA STEM Conference culminates with the BEYA Gala, where the winner of the Black Engineer of the Year Award is announced. Many call this event the “Oscars of the STEM Industry,” with so many of the top scientists and engineers, from all different industries, in one room. A room full of women and people of color.
I’m thrilled (to say the least) to dive right in and be inspired! To understand their journeys, what makes them tick and their unique passions. And to be reminded once again to never let someone tell you that you can’t be or do something because of your gender or the color of your skin — or for any other reason, for that matter.
Alecia Mack originally published this article here. Fairygodboss has republished it with permission from Alecia Mack and Kohler Co.
Fairygodboss is proud to partner with Kohler Co. Find a job there today!