STEMinist Profile: Amanda Conger, Mechanical Design Engineer

Amanda Conger

Amanda Conger, P.E.

Mechanical Design Engineer
Engineering Consulting Firm



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My mother had introduced me to the idea of being an architect, which I thought sounded pretty neat, so when I had an opportunity to job shadow a professional, I selected a female architect. The woman was wonderful, but when I kept peppering her with questions about how the buildings stayed up and who made sure there was room for the air conditioning ducts, she steered me toward architectural engineering. Researching that introduced me to the more general field of engineering and I was hooked. I am forever grateful to that architect for putting me on the right path.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to do a little bit of everything so I have worked on projects ranging from tiny, hand held enclosures, to a 20 foot diameter, two story tall helicopter simulator. I’ve worked on military, commercial, and industrial projects. And the most gratifying projects are the ones where you really see it all come together.

Whether that is theoretically (as in the white paper I coauthored on the thermal characteristics of a body worn computer) or empirically (as in the industrial flat bed printer I spent a week camped out in a warehouse doing the bulk of the assembly on), being able to look at a finished product and say “I did that” is powerful stuff.

Role models and heroes:
I am forever indebted to the women who came before me. The ones who opened the doors, ignored the stereotypes, and just kept right on doing what they wanted to do. That takes an amazing amount of strength and self-certainty.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t be discouraged because something is “hard”. It’s normal to try and fail. What matters is that you pick yourself back up and say “Well, that didn’t work, maybe this will.” and try again. No one has all the answers, even if it seems like they do.

Also, learn the difference between “good enough” and “perfect”. The difference between a 97% and a 100% may matter in school but it rarely matters in the work force. Take the energy you would put into that last 3% and use it to get started on something else. That same effort can often get you 50% of the way through the next big thing.

Favorite website or app:
Pinterest is my most recent favorite website. I love all the eye candy and it’s chock full of great DIY ideas.

EEBA is my favorite app. It allows you to use digital “envelopes” to manage your money which is perfect for my debit card dependent self.

Twitter: @mrsdragon
Site: www.mrsdragon.net

STEMinist Profile: Tara Tiger Brown, Program Manager

Tara Tiger Brown

Tara Tiger Brown*

When I’m contracting my job title is usually Program Manager, Product Manager, Web/Interactive Producer or Technical Project Manager.



Organization: Teach Me Stuff**

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Growing up I was surrounded by women who felt comfortable using computers. My Step-mom purchased our family’s first computer that I played RPG games on during the day and she created CAD drawings on at night. My Mom is a huge gamer and teaches college level computing. My Grandma bought her first computer when she was 70 and she used it to email me recipes and design birthday cards.

I liked being on the computer; I loved the sound of the modem as it dialed up to my favorite BBS. Even though in elementary and high school not many other girls were playing around on the PC or Mac, it was totally normal at home. I went on to attend a technical college and have worked in the software business ever since.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I really love the current project I am working on – Teach Me Stuff. I have finally found that sweet spot between my passion, my skillset, a way to make money, and most importantly working with amazing people both on the project and participants in the program. Every day I feel like I’m making a difference in connecting people who need help with those that generously want to donate it.

I’ve never worked this closely with people in academia before and it is fascinating and humbling to marry their years of dedication and passion in digital media learning to something that truly will make a difference in people’s lives.

Role models and heroes:
Every day I hear about a woman doing something really cool, and I think, “I want to meet her!” Fortunately I have surrounded myself with friends who are also my heroes. At the last LAdy Tacos meetup I met the daughter of the guy who invented CAD (my stepmom used to create CAD drawings). It was a pretty cool moment.

My longstanding hero is Roberta Williams. The King’s Quest video game series forced me to get comfortable with our PC Junior and learn how how to use a modem to dial up to the BBS to find hints on playing the game.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Talk Talk Talk about your work – tweet it, blog it, attend meetup groups, join a tech mailing list or IRC channel. The best way to meet other like-minded people for networking, collaborating and even to get a new job is to get yourself out there. I used to think that LA was a lame city for tech, but when I started LAdy Tacos (@ladytacos) and began paying attention to similar groups, I started to realize that LA is bursting with amazing STEM talent.

Favorite website or app:
This is really hard to answer because I have several that I can’t live without.  I’ll go with Twitter because I follow a lot of STEM women (I made some lists) as well as news sources that keep me up-to-date with what’s happening in the world.

Twitter: @tara, @teachmestuff, @ladytacos

*People often ask me about “Tiger.” My Dad’s nickname for me since I was born is Tiger. I was also born in the Year of the Tiger and the Tiger is my favorite animal. I’m not really into wearing tiger stripes although I do have a tiger snuggie.

**I don’t have a title with Teach Me Stuff…we’re at the pre-MVP stage so I just do anything that needs to get done – website developer, survey maker, program recruiter, data analyzer, writer, algorithm designer….I don’t think titles are applicable before you actually form a company.

STEMinist Profile: Gail Carmichael, Ph.D. Student, Computer Science

Gail Carmichael

Gail Carmichael

PhD Student, Computer Science
Carleton University



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was lucky enough to have a computer in my room from a very early age, thanks to my Dad. I’ve always used computers for creative pursuits, like creating newsletters for our Girl Guides group or working on the school’s yearbook. In high school I really wanted to know what was happening “behind the screen” so to speak, and that’s what made me want to pursue computer science.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My favourite project so far is something still in progress called Gram’s House. It’s a game designed to get middle school girls more interested in computer science by offering a story with a connection to social good while teaching actual computer science concepts through puzzle game play. I’ve been working with some awesome researchers in the United States to get funding so we can have the game developed professionally. You can watch the progress here.

Role models and heroes:
My husband was my first influence to get into computer science. He started his college program while I was still in high school (we were just dating at the time). I saw how hard he worked and how interesting the field was, and he always encouraged me to go for it. Other awesome role models are women like Grace Hopper and Anita Borg, women who made a big impact in technology and beyond.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I always tell people to think about what their passions are and find a way to connect their field of study to that passion. In computer science, this is actually easy to do! Computing affects pretty much all aspects of our lives, so no matter what it is we care about, we can make a difference in that area with technology. In my case, I have found that I am passionate about teaching and education, so that’s why I’m researching educational games for my PhD!

Favorite website or app:
That’s a tough one. I guess I have to say Facebook because it’s one of the few sites I visit every day. I use it to connect with friends, of course, but also to keep in touch with awesome people I’ve met at conferences. I’ve maintained some wonderful friendships that way.

Twitter: @gailcarmichael
Site: www.gailcarmichael.com, compscigail.blogspot.com

STEMinist Profile: Sarah Scoles, Public Education Specialist, The National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Sarah Scoles

Public Education Specialist
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always loved astronomy, from the time that I knew the word “astronomy. ” I decided in elementary school that I wanted to study science and, eventually, do science myself. I was just fascinated that there was a whole universe outside our atmosphere, and that by looking at the light from objects billions of light-years away, we could learn things about them.

I was inspired that although we will never be able to touch, say, a black hole, or to change or affect or test it in any way, we have nonetheless developed a way to investigate it. I wanted to be a part of that investigation. Now, my job is to communicate the results of other people’s investigations and to help students learn what an investigation is, and that “science” isn’t memorizing the textbook glossary.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The coolest projects I have worked on are ones that allow students really to do science, sometimes for the first time. At the observatory, students often come for a couple of days and learn to use our 40-foot radio telescope. They take their own observations of hydrogen in the galaxy, and at the end of just 24-48 hours, they can describe how hydrogen and the Doppler effect show the galaxy’s spiral structure, which way it’s rotating, and approximately where we are. It’s inspiring to see how quickly students can become “experts” in a field when given the opportunity.

We also have a similar program called the Pulsar Search Collaboratory, in which students analyze never-before-seen survey data and analyze it to find never-before-seen pulsars. It’s gratifying to see them become so invested in the data and the discoveries. And it is definitely a process, in both cases. They start out nervous and tentative, and then as they begin to see themselves doing science and acting like scientists, they begin to believe those parts of their identity. In our evaluations, there’s been an especially impressive change in girls’ ability and willingness to identify with scientists, and to identify themselves as scientists.

Role models and heroes:
I’m a big fan of my dog, who is a girl, and definitely a feminist, and who would probably be a particle physicist if I would let her drive the car to work. She is as excited to learn about and explore the world around her as Jeanne Baret, and that inspires me to want to do the same. Or something.

Advice for future STEMinists?
I think the most important thing to remember if you want to go into a STEM is that it’s not just important to learn how to answer questions, but to come up with questions. You need to look at the world and think, “Huh, I wonder why X works that way,” or, “What if I did Y to Z?” And then you can use your STEMinist skills to figure out how to find the answer to that question, to replace the wondering (but not the wonder) with critical thought and data and observations.

Favorite website or app:
I love the app/website Evernote. I use it to clip and organize sites and articles I want to remember, and I use it to collaborate with other STEM professionals and with students, and I use it to jot down all my “deep thoughts” that might otherwise be lost to the either. It’s one of those great cloud tools that makes the information part of the “information age” something you can eat a bit at a time, and something that helps you remember what you wanted to take a bite of in the first place.

Site: Smaller Questions is the blog I co-write with my microbiologist friend. We write about journal articles that aren’t making much of a popular news splash, trying to make more cutting-edge science available to everybody.

STEMinist Profile: Rebecca Miller-Webster, Director of Technology, Gracious Eloise

Rebecca Miller-Webster

Rebecca Miller-Webster

Director of Technology
Gracious Eloise



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I randomly took a Computer Science class my freshman year of college, because I liked the internet.   I ended up not only doing really well, but enjoying it.  I struggled for the next couple years with the idea of being a computer scientist — I had a hard time rectifying who I was/wanted to be and the image I had of who a programmer was.  I continued taking Computer Science classes and doing research with a professor as well as taking Women’s Studies classes.  In what would have been my junior year, I took a year off with the goal of getting an internship as a programmer to see if it was something I wanted to do.

I ended up working full-time as a programmer for a friend’s husband’s small consulting firm and I loved it! I was working with non-profits and government agencies, I worked at home and had lots of flexibility, and I loved the challenge of solving problems and helping people.  I transfered schools (for other reasons) after that and due to credit transferring issues, I got a BA in Women’s Studies and an MS in Computer Science.  I continued to work at the consulting firm while finishing school and also did worked on websites for others here and there.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I think the coolest project I’ve worked on is my current job at Gracious Eloise. Gracious Eloise is making handwriting digital and handwritten notes as easy as email. I came on when the handwriting replication software was finished (created by 5 Ph.Ds – it’s a hard problem!) and was responsible for building the web application from scratch and gluing the handwriting replication software together with the web app. I was the only programmer, so I got to choose the technology and make all the decisions — it was scary, but also really exciting. In the end it was so cool to spend months working on this project and then launch it and have people use it.

I also really like being a part of business decisions, which you can do at start-ups and small companies. This particular project is also neat because there are so many applications — from non-profits and elected officials to retail and PR to brides and consumes. One of the coolest things about being a programmer is that everyone – every industry, every type of company – needs programmers and applications. I’ve worked at an investment bank, start-ups, as a freelancer, at a University, a small consulting firm and in industries as varied as banking, education, and non-profits. It’s a great way to make a great living helping people and solving problems in whatever area you’re interested in

Role models and heroes:
My mom is probably my biggest role model. She got a Ph.D. in physiology in 1976 and worked as a research scientist for 30 years. Whenever I struggle with the challenges of being a women in a male-dominated field, I can also turn to her for advice, comfort, and also a reminder that it’s gotten so much better since her time. Since she retired, she’s gotten another Master’s degree and tried a bunch of other jobs. She’s currently in school for Physical Therapy … she just never stops learning and trying new things! It’s inspiring.

Why do you love working in STEM?
I love being in technology for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that I want to help people solve problems and make their lives easier or better. By creating applications, I can do that. I love talking and working with the users of the application I create and the challenge of translating their problems into technical features. I love the excitement when people use an app that really helps them for the first time. The other big thing I love about STEM is that, because technology is always changing, I am always learning. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but mostly it’s exciting and keeps me interested. There’s always a new technology and a new app and a new problem.

I also think this has made me a better person — it’s taught me to dig beyond what people are saying to get to the crux of their issue; it’s gotten me comfortable with feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing and learning new things constantly (which is a great life skill!); it’s taught me that there are lots of solutions to a problem and not everyone will like mine and that’s OK.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Stick with it and try to find an internship or other work experience early on. I found that working as a computer scientist and studying as one were totally different and I loved working and wasn’t as interested in the studying. Research and industry are two totally different ball games and schools tend to focus on research, because, well, that’s what they do! Also, I found that it was much easier being a women in a male-dominated field while working then studying. It may be different in other types of engineering or at different schools though.

Lastly, I would suggest you consider an all-girls colleges and smaller schools. I started at Smith College and although I left, I think a lot about the differences between Smith and the big Engineering school in a University I ended up at. I don’t think I would have gotten into Computer Science and stayed with it if I hadn’t started in such a welcoming and supportive environment. I just think that is harder to create when you have Engineering split from the rest of the school. Also, when Engineering and Science aren’t split out, it gives you more of an opportunity to explore.

Favorite website or app:
I’m all about apps that make my life easier and help me organize. I love Dropbox for sharing files between my computers and with co-workers and friends. I also love the Early Edition iPad app, which helps me keep up to date on tech and other topics in a not-annoying, icky-blog-reader kind of way.

Twitter: @rmillerwebster
Site: rebeccamiller-webster.com

STEMinist Profile: Rebecca Lipon, Account Manager of Technology, Functional Verification

Rebecca Lipon

Rebecca Lipon

Account Manager of Technology, Functional Verification
Cadence Design Systems

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always fascinated by gadgets, and I had an amazing Calculus teacher in high school who inspired me to continue studying mathematics. In college, I was able to apply mathematics to real-life scenarios (learning how to write faster programs for computer architectures, understanding physical limitations of computer hardware and how to optimize for best results, etc.) and I was hooked.

That led me out of pure mathematics, and into Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and I didn’t look back. Each job I’ve pursued since has led me to new problems that force me to question what is possible and architect solutions. I could not imagine finding a career path that would have allowed me to keep growing and learning throughout life more than being an engineer.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I worked on an FPGA-based acceleration board that plugged into the highest I/O interconnect available in the market at the time. FPGAs are field-programmable gate arrays and can be programmed to have different functionality by sending a different stream of 1s and 0s into the chip. Working with a great team of people we built the entire system from “soup to nuts”–the board layout, peripherals, interconnect architecture, the FPGA logic wrapper providing access to off chip memory and I/O, and then a software layer to program the FPGA to run the logic the user required, and be able to debug it with standard tools.

It was an amazing opportunity to learn about a system from the inside out, and it also allowed me to work with an incredible team of people. Engineering has been incredible not just for the problems I’ve individually been able to solve, but for the joy of working with wonderful, talented teams of people.

Role models and heroes:
There are so many wonderful women, heroines, making a difference in high tech right now: Sheryl Sandberg, Caterina Fake, Cher Wang, Marissa Mayer, and Padmasree Warrior are just a few who come to mind. Honestly though, the strong and capable women in my family have always been my role models–from my grandmothers, to my mother, aunts, and sisters, I am deeply proud to come from such a strong line of women and I know they inspired me to believe in myself.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Learn. Never stop learning. When a problem is truly difficult, the joy found in unlocking the riddle and figuring it out is better than any other feeling I’ve experienced.

Favorite website or app:
Women 2.0 is my favorite website for learning about and promoting other women trying to change the world and build a future for America.

Twitter: @rebeccalipon

STEMinist Profile: Nicole Gugliucci, Astronomy Doctoral Student

Nicole Gugliucci

Nicole Gugliucci

Graduate student working towards a Ph.D. in Astronomy (defense in three months!)



Organization: University of Virginia

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I always loved science, especially space. I had very encouraging high school science teachers that encouraged me to pursue a career in astronomy. At the time, I was really into the Mars Pathfinder lander. Also, I watched the movie “Contact” when it was in theatres and though, “wow, maybe I can be an astronomer, too!” Now I actually do radio astronomy!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I’m currently working on a project where we are building a radio telescope array in South Africa. Traveling to a desert region for research was an excellent experience, and I enjoy seeing an instrument come together. In a way, I think it brings you closer to your data when you’ve helped put the telescope together.

Role models and heroes:
My mom always encouraged me to pursue my interests. She supported my voracious reading habit all through my childhood, and she helped me research the answers to all my “whys” in the days before Google.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Find good mentors and a support group throughout your career. Your mentors will help you discover the parts of being a scientist that cannot be taught in classes. Your support group will let you cry when your computer crashes.

Favorite website or app:
Lately, I’ve been really enjoying Google+. The video hangouts have allowed a new level of interaction with other scientists and enthusiasts. (Plug! Check out the Weekly Space Hangout 1pm ET every Thursday)

Twitter: @noisyastronomer
Site: noisyastronomer.com links to all my blogs, social media profiles, and other silliness scattered across the internet!

STEMinist Profile: Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D., Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert

Claudia Aguirre

Claudia Aguirre, Ph.D.

Neuroscientist/Skin Care Expert, Scientific Communications Manager for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute



Organization: Dermalogica, Inc.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was always interested in finding out as much as I could about the world. I was a curious child but never really gravitated toward science, as it seemed like something for boys to do. I loved to read, write and was a great problem-solver. I did not realize for a long time that this was the perfect skill set for a scientist. In high school I excelled in English literature, French, Psychology and other ‘liberal arts’ areas. I felt I was not good enough at math to pursue hard sciences. (It’s only now that I understand girls and some boys need to understand it from a different perspective to ‘get it’).

I did really enjoy physiology and decided to give medicine a try. I was pre-med all my undergraduate years and in my sophomore year I began to do research in a life sciences lab. I immediately fell at ease and had a great female mentor to help me learn to get into the field. I was accepted into a scholars program that further developed my skills in becoming a scientist.

I was able to present my work at scientific conferences for undergraduates and even got my name published in a paper by my junior year. After this, I was encouraged to apply to a prestigious program at NIH, which I accepted and spent a year studying schizophrenia at NIMH. After that, I was certain I wanted to join a PhD program.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Science, when taught right (especially to girls) is pretty cool. One of the coolest projects was the one I worked on at NIMH studying the molecular basis of schizophrenia. Being the least understood of all mental diseases made it that much more interesting for me. I got a 360 degree view of the disease, even though I was personally only focused on extracting and analyzing RNA from human brain samples.

I got to sit in on physician-patient meetings and was in an incredible learning environment for sciences. The other cool project was a side project to my PhD. It was helping out with a study on the effects of LA pollution on the brain. This project even made it to TIME.

Role models and heroes:
My mother is always going to be a role model/hero for me.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t listen to them! You can do it all. You can have passions for art, literature, music and talents for math, science or technology (or vice versa). Either way, follow your instincts and don’t believe people when they doubt your skills. Get involved. Work on projects and find things outside of school that will fuel your curiosity.

Favorite website or app:
Favorite app at the moment is Instagram. I’m from a DIY generation, so it’s fun having the tools for making photos look amazing without a heavy investment. Favorite sites right now are Twitter for sharing information, and Pinterest for collecting nice images.

Twitter: @doctorclaudia
Site: claudiaaguirre.com

Please also see my blog post about STEM education for girls.

STEMinist Profile: Julie Pedraza, Computer Programmer

Julie Pedraza

Julie Pedraza

Computer Programmer
Texas K-12 Pubic School District



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
While growing up I did not have access to a computer at home. So I remember being fascinated the first time I sat down in a computer lab to do a Math lesson followed by the fun challenge of safely guiding a frog across traffic. I knew that when I grew up, my life would be inevitably tied with this Technology.

My interest in the field of Computer Science was nurtured by my involvement with numerous STEM after-school actives and participating in Tech Prep Summer Enrichment Programs at my local University. I attended a Technology Magnet High School that further introduced me to the many careers in STEM coupled with technology oriented classes that were fun and challenging.

My high school teachers were great mentors and always made available the resources to stay engaged in technology. They gave me the confidence to participate in many STEM related student competitions. My passion for technology has only strengthened and and I continuously strive to keep learning in the ever-changing world of technology!

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
While pursuing my Graduate Studies in Computer Science, I started working full time in the Special Projects Division of a local company. I was immediately given the lead position on a major company-wide project under the guidance of my IT Manager and Supervisor. I took the challenge head-on and leveraged my extensive educational background to work through the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) process to help build an application that would be integrated with a new system.

I methodically worked my way from the initial project planning stages and requirements gathering, system analysis, design and implementation, and ending with testing, deployment, and maintenance of the completed integrated application. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with key department administrators/staff. Building something that people use and rely on every single day, from the ground up, is a reward unlike any other!

Role models and heroes:
I attribute my parents as being my first and foremost roles models who have always instilled in me the value of education, hard work, perseverance and patience. Nothing worth anything ever comes easy! My husband is my STEM partner and constant reminder to never underestimate my potential.

Advice for future STEMinists?
The journey towards a STEM career requires hard-work and dedication, is filled with challenges, and is ultimately rewarding. Being a woman in a STEM career, you will more than likely be the minority in the classroom and in the workplace. Do not get discouraged when you find yourself in this situation. Never give in to fear but aim to keep moving forward with increasing determination!

Seek to engage and participate in STEM activities because it can open doors of opportunities and will give you chance to network with others in this field who are willing to serve as mentors!

Favorite website or app: I love Twitter!

Twitter: @juliendanny

STEMinist Profile: Dr. Lorraine M. Baron, Professor of Mathematics and Sciences Education

Lorraine M. Baron

Dr. Lorraine M. Baron

Prof. of Mathematics & Sciences Education
University of British Columbia – Okanagan



What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
My mother inspired me to pursue the joy of mathematics at an early age. She just “knew” that I would be good at it. My mother taught me the importance of doing well in school, and she always has had a strong appreciation for post-secondary education.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Recently, I was able to work with another secondary school teacher and his class of 11th grade pre-calculus students. The best part was that we discarded all of our preconceived notions of what high school mathematics class looked like, and we designed unconventional tasks (about quadratic functions this time) that students could try in groups.

We gave the students time to make sense of the mathematical ideas, and the knowledge that the students created was astounding. We guided them of course, but they learned it and built the ideas on their own, and then, they taught it to each other. It was very powerful, and the students felt that they had understood the mathematical concepts.

Role models and heroes:
Teachers: They work hard every day with our children. My mother and grandmother, my husband (John Grodzki), my current Dean of Education who was also my theory professor (Dr. B Lynn Bosetti), my own high school chemistry teacher (Dieter Stamm), my high school mathematics teacher who has passed away (Wilf Loch), and my mathematics teaching methods professor who very sadly passed last year (Dr. Walter Szetela).

Advice for future STEMinists?
Tell your children they CAN do mathematics and sciences – all of them. Please cringe when a news reporter, or TV show, or just a conversationalist laughs at being poor in mathematics. It is not OK to be poor at mathematics, just as it is not OK to be a poor reader. As soon as we think it is fine to laugh at lacking mathematical skills, we are excusing our children from working hard. We are allowing them to give up if they choose to.

If you knew me, you would know that I appreciate a good laugh, and that I take things very lightly, but this is one thing that we cannot do any more to our future generations. That is…we cannot allow them to think that it is acceptable if they cannot do mathematics (or sciences). Our future as a planet does depend on supporting mathematics and sciences learning.

Twitter: @Doc_Baron