Welcome to the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Alumnae Stories! For those of you who are new to the Aspirations IT Connect Community, my name Katherine Myers, I am a program alumna and ambassador, and I am currently the host of the #MNAiCAlumnaeStories series on Instagram.
Alumnae Stories is a monthly LIVE Chat — the series provides program participants an online opportunity to connect with alumnae at various stages of their journey as #womenintech, as well as industry leaders and educators. This month I caught up with a fellow MNAiC Award Honoree and alumna, engineer, and geekette, Erin Mitchell.
ABOUT THE GUEST
Up until her sophomore year at Lakeville North High School, Erin Mitchell had always wanted to be an author. Then, she found that code could flow from her fingertips like words always had, and she was hooked. Her passion for problem-solving, people, and planes led her to a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and an MBA from Iowa State University, and then on to a rotational program and a full-time role as an Industrial Engineer in New Product Introduction at Collins Aerospace. A constant learner, she’s recently started a second Master’s in Systems Engineering with a focus in Human Systems from Johns Hopkins University.
Her passion for people has led her back to the community. She was sparked into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) by role models and her support system, and she has the drive and obligation to be that spark for someone else. Mentoring students through FIRST Robotics and community programs provide them not only a safe environment to exist, but a place to thrive and start writing their own stories.
As the Chief Financial Officer of Reinvented Inc, a 501(c)3 non-profit, the writing continues. Erin is part of a team of volunteers providing the nation’s first print magazine for women in STEM. From sharing the stories and experiences of groundbreaking ladies in the field to reporting the latest news in science and technology, Reinvented paves the way for future generations of women to become leading pioneers of STEM.
I literally had the best conversation with Erin earlier this week. Like myself, she is an engineer, early in her career, has plenty to learn, and having fun doing it! Erin is an industrial engineer at Collins Aerospace. Her journey at Collins actually started while she was attending Iowa State University where she started a rotation that took her from Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, and back to Florida where she now resides. According to Erin, her day-to-day duties at Collins is “like legos instead of mismatched papers stacked in a tower” — a great workday and a job done well simply means making someone else’s day easier.
Ironically, as a high schooler, Erin was more inclined and interested in marketing and the creative field. Her #womaninengineering story is more of “disaster story,” Erin shared. Her mother convinced (more like forced if you asked, Erin) her to take an electricity class as a freshman in high school which she absolutely hated. She then joined the FIRST Robotics where she gained project management experience and then was “voluntold” she’d be programming the robot and it was all history from there!
Erin initially enrolled at Iowa State as a materials engineering major because she absolutely loved chemistry but days before her freshman career fair, she came to the realization she preferred more human engagement than she did chemistry. A friend encouraged her to try industrial engineering and she immediately fell in love with the major.
The transition to college is different for everyone, and Erin left her home here in Lakeville for Iowa State. The Women in Science and Engineering Living Learning Community at Iowa State (I lived in the WISE LLC at the University of Minnesota) made her experience at the college and engineering program easier as the program was predominantly males. Erin formed close friendships with many of the other young women in the program. To expand her learning, Erin took an undergraduate job with WISE doing science experiments with K-12 girls, and she was also a RA for a year. She enjoyed helping other students acclimate to college life, she joked about helping freshmen learn how to do laundry and cope with homesickness. Erin and I both highly recommend Living Learning communities if your college has them. Some of the friends I made on my first day of college that lived in my LLC are now my best friends -- I have even been asked to be in some of their weddings!
I was a bit pleased to learn Erin also had doubts much like me about becoming an engineer during her undergraduate (and even today while in career). The one major thing about herself self which has changed drastically from high school and college to now is her self efficacy. I remember struggling with imposter syndrome during my own journey and I’ve since learn that this is normal for most of us women in tech. We often don’t see much representation of our gender in STEM roles, so we question whether we just are taking us such spaces — you can’t become what you don’t see, so highlighting women in engineering is very important.
Many of you are on your 6th or 8th week of social distancing. Schools are still closed and its unlikely that the class of 2020 will get the opportunity to doone caps and gown. Even proms have been canceled this year. Check the video highlights for some encouraging words about all this from Erin — we celebrate all you have accomplished, even if you are not able to walk across a stage in a cap and gown. It is going to be okay. Remember, these are unprecedented times. None of us have ever experienced a pandemic and yes, it all sucks.
As you can all see, STEM is on the frontlines of this pandemic. Young women in high school and college can see the true impact pf scientists and technologists globally. The best advice we can give you right now is to stay home. And staying home doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. If you desire to do more and you have access to equipment to help build medical supplies, do it. If you want to support healthcare workers, send coffee and messages of gratitude. And….don’t hoard supplies, so others can get access to what they need to be comfortable and safe.
Thanks so much, Erin, for making time to chat with me. it was awesome meeting you virtually. I look forward to hearing your keynote message at this year’s annual award events. If you haven’t already heard, we’re celebrating this year’s top-level National and State honorees via Zoom on May 20th. Rising Star and Certificate of Distinction honorees will be recognized virtually in late June.
Don’t forget changes have been made to the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing 2020 programming in response to the pandemic. View changes here and subscribe to the Aspirations IT Connect Community to receive program updates.
WHY WE CHAT
Alumnae Stories is a syndicated Instagram series. This monthly LIVE Chat. is an effort to provide program participants an online opportunity to connect with alumnae at various stages of their journey as #womenintech, as well as industry leaders and educators.
While the conversations are primarily focused on tech, there will occasionally be an integration of engineering, biology, and other sciences. Our goal is to cultivate a safe space for girls to exchange ideas, insights, ask questions, and connect with peers, educators, and future employers.
Guest alumnae, program partners and industry leaders who agree to chat with us are driven by the desire to pay-it-forward by lending their stories, experiences, advice and professional connections to help build equity for women in the tech sector.
MEET THE HOST
Katherine Myers was a 2015 State AiC Winner during her senior year at Wayzata High School. Since then she has participated in three summer internships (2015, 2016, and 2018) that she acquired as an Aspirations Grand Prize winner. Katherine attended the University of Minnesota, where she realized an interest in the medical device field. Last May, she graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering with an emphasis in Communications, Signal Processing, and Medical Devices..
We’re incredibly proud to share that Katherine currently works as a Systems Verification Engineer at Abbott’s Cardiac Arrhythmias and Heart Failure Electrophysiology Division in Saint Paul, MN 🎉
ABOUT MINNESOTA ASPIRATIONS IN COMPUTING
The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Awards Program partners with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to inspire, empower, and honor young women of high school age for their computing-related achievements and interests. The program is supported by the Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence and numerous businesses and organizations. The powerful story of honoree accomplishments does not end at recognition ceremonies in April of each year, it’s just the beginning! Over 500 young women who have been honored since the Minnesota Aspirations in Computing Program inception in 2012-2013 continue to pursue life-changing education and career opportunities, becoming accomplished practitioners and leaders in a variety of Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.
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