High school girls learn career options at 'FiT for the Future'

November 24 2008

Car buff Melissa Stam has long planned to attend college and major in mechanical engineering.

A visit to the "FiT for the Future" Females in Technology conference at the Indiana State University College of Technology now has Stam, a senior at Columbus High School North, weighing a slightly different major -- mechanical engineering technology.

"I just heard about the technology part. That's even better. They do more hands on things." Stam said during a lunch break from the event. This gives me a feel for what ISU has -- mechanical engineering as well as automotive. I've always loved cars."

It's not a richly appointed interior and dual lighted vanity mirrors that interest Stam, it's horsepower.

"When I take my two daughters to the Chicago Auto Show, one spends her time trying to get into the cars, the other spends all her time looking at the engines," said Stam's mother, Angie Holycord, who accompanied Stam to ISU, turning "FiT for the Future" into a college visit.

At Indiana State, one engine in particular caught Stam's attention -- the seven-liter Corvette power plant that propels Team Sycamore Racing's dragster.

Holycord is a Purdue grad and Stam has long expected to attend her mom's alma mater. But now she is giving serious consideration to Indiana State, where she could major in mechanical engineering technology and minor in Spanish and motorsports management -- while being a part of the student racing team.

"There may be an advantage to a smaller school -- and that's coming from a Purdue grad," Holycord said.

The FiT event was much more than a technology exhibit; it also gave high school girls from around the state an opportunity to hear from women who work in high tech fields.

As much as she was impressed by the Corvette engine, Stam was also impressed by women who spoke about their work in male-dominated fields

Evelyn Owens, technical coordinator of the print department at Sony DADC in Terre Haute, was among the speakers.

"The two fields that you can go into that are constantly developing and constantly are in need (of workers) are technology and medical; and not everyone is cut out for medical. I chose technology because I wanted job security," Owens said. "Sony produces four formats of discs, so we have a variety of things that we do. It's very busy."

Owens, who works full time while pursuing a bachelor's degree at Indiana State, is the only female technician at DADC and was the only female technician at her former employer, Kimball Electronics in Jasper.

"A lot of companies are looking for a more diverse work force," she noted.

Lori Brown, assistant to the director at Monroe County Airport in Bloomington, also spoke.

"I talked to students about considering the variety of careers in aviation and how to prepare; about being a pilot and the different types of pilots and about what opportunities are available and what classes to take in high school," said Brown, a 2007 Indiana State graduate with a bachelor's degree in aerospace management.

With 106 public use airports around the state, virtually every high school student in Indiana can investigate what aviation has to offer.

"You can get your pilot's license at 16, try it on for size and see if it truly interests you," Brown said.

Candi Lang, who teaches chemistry, physics and engineering at Bloomfield Junior-Senior High School, brought 20 girls, many of them freshmen and sophomores, to the event -- all of them in Project Lead the Way, which is designed to motivate students into pursuing careers in engineering-related fields.

"I'm glad they came," Lang said. "They're seeing things other than the stereotypical aspects of technology. They think of mechanical or electrical technology and now they are seeing packaging technology, aviation technology or civil engineering ? areas they probably didn't realize."

While more women than ever are entering technology fields, there remains a gender gap, something Lang attributes to media continuing to portray tech jobs as held mainly by men.

"Women are just not aware of the opportunities available to them," she said.

But the Females in Technology organization at Indiana State, now in its second year, is working to change that.

"We saw a need," Jennifer Hale, a senior construction management major from Terre Haute and Females in Technology president, said. "Six percent of students in technology are female. Often there are only one or two women in each class and we needed a group for moral support and to help each other."

Hale started her college career as an interior design major at Ball State University before realizing that was not her calling.

Through events such as "FiT for the Future," Hale hopes today's high school girls can find their true calling sooner.

Megan Jackson, a FiT member majoring in technology and engineering education, attended the conference last year as a senior at West Vigo and was a FiT workshop facilitator this year.

"I was in their shoes last year," Jackson said, "and this conference made me realize I could pursue my career in technology with the support of other females."

Other speakers at FiT for the Future were:
-- Reanda Kirchner, president of Re-Construction Services Inc. in Brazil
-- Jana Nees, a process specialist for Cook Pharmica in Bloomington
-- Tricia Rochyby, packaging engineer at Baxter Pharmaceutical Solutions in Bloomington
-- Sarah Rodie, senior mechanical engineering technology major at ISU
-- Kristie Sturgeon, plant leader, Unisom Engine Components, Terre Haute

Photo: Trying out the lab
High school students Allison Harper of Terre Haute South Vigo and Ashley Nail of Bloomfield (right)check out the Robotics Lab at Indiana State University's College of Technology with assistance from Haritha Javvadi, a graduate student in electronics. ISU/Tony Campbell

Contact: Bev Bitzegaio, outreach coordinator, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3575 or bitz@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications & Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

The "FiT for the Future" Females in Technology conference hosted by the ISU College of Technology introduced female high school students to a variety of career possibilities.

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