One chased amoebas in a creek. Another loved puzzling out math problems. One fed her curiosity through a sash full of Girl Scout badges, while another became enamored with science during a trip to a crocodile farm.
All four girls grew up to become accomplished engineers and scientists, and this week Raytheon is celebrating their successes along with those of thousands of other women as part of National Engineers Week.
Thursday, Feb. 20, marks Girl Day, which introduces girls to engineering and how engineers can change the world.
Here Raytheon presents the stories of these four accomplished women whose love of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) propelled them to achievement and success.
‘Companies need women engineers’
Lana Fountain Flakes’ path to becoming a NASA engineer began in an unusual place: a creek in southern Mississippi.
In fifth grade, her science class was asked to analyze water samples near her home in Moss Point, Miss. Using microscopes to examine the tiny organisms in the water, she was quickly hooked on science.
“One of my water samples had an amoeba in it that you could see under the microscope, and I was mesmerized,” Fountain Flakes said.
That fascination with science led to a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at Louisiana Tech University and a 14-year-career at NASA, working on systems that power space shuttles. It also led to an active role in the Society of Women Engineers, in which Fountain Flakes has been an active member for 20 years.
Such groups play an important role, Fountain Flakes, said, because a clear gender imbalance remains in engineering.
About 89 percent of engineers are men and only 11 percent women. A recent Raytheon survey found that young men in the United States were far more likely (47 percent) than women (26 percent) to say they planned to pursue education in science, technology, engineering or math.
“Companies need women engineers because when they design a product, they need women’s insights into how that product will be viewed and how it should be designed,” Fountain Flakes said. “If you have only male engineers, you’re limiting your perspective.”
‘I love being proud of what I do every day’
For Danielle Curcio, engineering provided a path to a dream job at Raytheon working on innovative aerospace and defense systems – including the Patriot air and missile system that guards soldiers around the world.
“At Raytheon our mission is to protect soldiers, and I love being proud of what I do every day,” Curcio said. “It is truly exciting to work on complex algorithms that are responsible for getting the missile to the target at the right time.”
Curcio calls herself a “logical person” who has always been drawn by the sense of accomplishment of solving a difficult math challenge.
These days, Curcio, Raytheon’s chief software engineer, who provides oversight and guidance to approximately 5,000 engineers across multiple software efforts, faces big challenges.
“Our job is to revolutionize how we develop software,” Curcio said. “Each day, thousands of engineers across the company are thinking up new, innovative approaches to our work.”
Curcio also serves as chairwoman of the Global Marathon, a free virtual event uniting women in engineering and technology from around the world that features webcasts as well as locally organized events.
“The Global Marathon is a tremendous opportunity for women worldwide to come together, to learn from one another and share experiences,” Curcio said. “When women connect from around the globe, they inspire each other to change the world.”
‘Get them excited’
From an early age, Rebecca Rhoads’ parents impressed upon her that she could do anything she put her mind to.
Following in her father’s footsteps, Rhoads earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Though the early part of her career was spent leading critical engineering projects, her success in that field eventually led to her appointment as Raytheon’s chief information officer and president of Raytheon’s Global Business Services.
Rhoads, who was inducted into the Cal Poly Pomona College of Engineering Hall of Fame this week, said it’s important to encourage a love of science, technology, engineering and math in girls at an early age.
“STEM excitement must be injected at a young age – to ensure students have the confidence to pursue STEM disciplines later,” Rhoads said. “By middle school or before is the time to get them excited about the possibilities of a STEM-related career.”
Crocodiles and petri dishes
Erika Ebbel Angle found her love of science on a crocodile farm in Cancun.
On a vacation to Mexico when she was in the sixth grade, Ebbel Angle learned that mortally wounded crocodiles often flip onto their backs to die. That made her wonder if cells do something similar when infected by viruses – a hypothesis that a local public health lab director back home in California agreed to let her to test in his lab.
Ebbel Angle entered her research project into a school science fair, and a lifelong love of science was born.
That path led to a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in biochemistry from the Boston University School of Medicine.
But Ebbel Angle has never been one-dimensional. In 2004, she earned the Miss Massachusetts title in the Miss America Scholarship Program. An accomplished pianist, she minored in music at MIT.
Later she hosted a science television show for children, “The Dr. Erika Show,” and founded the non-profit Science from Scientists. The organization encourages science, technology, engineering and math learning through hands-on demonstrations.
“There’s this issue about being a scientist and female, but girls should know they can be whoever they want to be,” said Ebbel Angle, who is now the chief executive and founder of a biotechnology company, Counterpoint Health Solutions. “You can be an athlete or you can be Miss Massachusetts. If you’re a girl and want to wear a skirt and makeup and be a scientist, then be a scientist. You can be whoever you want to be, whoever you are, and still be a scientist.”
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