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Episode 53: Celebrating Women in STEM

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During Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the contributions of inspirational leaders and trailblazers who are positively impacting our communities and world. Today, we highlight two women of SwRI who shine in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, fields in which women are typically underrepresented. Hear about their fascinating work, their journeys in engineering and planetary science and why a woman’s perspective is valuable and necessary in STEM workspaces.

Listen now as SwRI Planetary Scientist Dr. Tracy Becker and SwRI Engineer Dr. Erin DeCarlo discuss their roles in STEM careers, women who inspire them and how the landscape is changing for women in traditionally male-dominated fields. 

Visit Planetary Science and Manufacturing and Construction to learn more about their work and SwRI’s research and development in these areas.


Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for clarity.

Lisa Peña (LP): March is Women's History Month, a celebration of the women who have made a lasting impact on American history. And we're highlighting two outstanding women of SwRI contributing to a better world through their space science and engineering work and through their efforts to bring more women into their fields. That's next on this episode of Technology Today.


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Hello and welcome to our first Technology Today episode of the new year. I'm Lisa Peña. During Women's History Month, we recognize the impact and achievements of women across a range of fields. The 2023 theme designated by the National Women's History Alliance is celebrating women who tell our stories. Their website reads, women's stories expand our understanding and strengthen our connections with each other. At SwRI, we have many women who shine in STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And many like our guests today are actively working to increase female representation in STEM. SwRI planetary scientist Dr. Tracy Becker and civil engineer Dr. Erin DeCarlo join us today to share their stories, talking about their work, their community outreach, and a special initiative at SwRI to support women in STEM. Welcome. And thank you both for being here, Tracy and Erin.

Dr. Erin DeCarlo

SwRI Civil Engineer Dr. Erin DeCarlo focuses on quantifying the uncertainty of engineering designs and materials through advanced probabilistic methods and statistics. She is currently active in hypersonics and additive manufacturing research. Helping her parents with home remodeling projects sparked her interest in engineering as a child.

Dr. Tracy Becker (TB): Thanks so much.

Dr. Erin DeCarlo (ED): Thanks for having us.

LP: I'm excited about our conversation today. I think this is a really important conversation to have. During Women's History Month, it's even more exciting to talk about your work and share your stories. Let's start with learning more about you, two women we are celebrating during this Women's History Month. So tell us about yourself and your work. What is a big project you're currently working on? And what professional achievement are you most proud of? Let's start with Erin.

ED: I am in the Materials Engineering department. And my work is actually more statistical in nature. So it's an uncertainty quantification. And let me tell you a little bit about what that means because usually, one of the first barriers I have to break in any given meeting or presentation is telling people what uncertain quantification is. But in engineering, oftentimes, we don't have lots and lots of data to support some of the engineering decisions that we're making, namely, around material properties or material performance. And so what we're dealing with and uncertainty quantification is trying to assess our actual state of knowledge about how those things are going to perform. So we bring in modeling. We bring in data. We bring in experts in trying to assess how confident we are that new thing is going to actually perform.

LP: So what's an example of a material that you might test?

ED: A great question. So two material systems that we're interested in these days is additive manufacturing. So additive manufacturing is-- we have a machine on campus. There's lots of different additive manufacturing methods. But one of them is powder bed fusion. So you are subjecting a high-powered laser against a layer of powder. And you're trying to form the part and the material as you are moving that laser around. And so the idea is sometimes in space applications or maybe in the field, you're trying to create a part that you need. And you need to make sure that it's going to perform. So we try to bring in models and bring in past data, maybe, that has been made from that same powder or same part-- or sorry-- same machine and try to predict how that will perform. That's kind of the overarching goal.

LP: What professional achievement are you most proud of?

ED: I don't know if it's a strictly a professional achievement. One thing is getting your PhD, as I'm sure Tracy will can also corroborate, is a big professional achievement. But I think sometimes, I look at the smaller moments. So one thing that I'm proud of is, I guess, coming into some confidence over the course of my career. So about three years ago, I had a colleague leave. And he was a phenomenal researcher. And I had to take over a project for him. And it was humongous shoes to fill. And I was feeling a lot of trepidation about it. And so the first meeting that I had with the team, I had to ask a lot of questions, and I had to try to come up with a solution. And over the course of about two weeks, I came up with a solution and presented that solution, and they loved it. And that was one of the first times where I went from, oh, my gosh. Can I do this? To I actually can do this. And I'm enough. And my work means something. Anyway, so that was a very big moment for me in terms of pride in my work and also feeling confident. Like yeah, I can do this. I can handle this.

LP: I know what I'm doing.

ED: I know what I'm doing. Exactly.
Dr. Tracy Becker

Planetary Scientist Dr. Tracy Becker is part of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission team, and has been an important part of many NASA missions over the past 12 years. Becker is co-founder of San Antonio’s Astronomy on Tap event series. Asteroid 26471 Tracybecker was named in her honor. A book about space sparked her interest in planetary science when she was in second grade.

LP: That, in and of itself, I think, in our profession-- in our careers, we have those moments. And those are so important to building us up to the next big thing, whatever that may be. Well, Erin, thank you so much for sharing about yourself. And I'm going to move over to Tracy now. We want to learn a little bit more about your work. What's a big project you're currently working on? I know you have many. And tell us about a professional achievement you're most proud of.

TB: Sure. Yeah, so there's a lot of really great work going on in the Space Science division. We have a lot of missions, a lot of exciting projects. And one of the ones I'm most excited to be part of is the Europa Clipper mission. This is NASA's next big mission. It's heading to Jupiter's moon, Europa, which is an icy moon, has an ice shell with a liquid water ocean underneath. And there's more liquid water there than all of Earth's oceans combined. So if there is life in the solar system, this is a great place to check.

And that is sort of the goal of the mission. The mission itself's goal is to assess the habitability, so if the conditions there are right for life, not necessarily to find life, but to see if the conditions there could support life or maybe in the past, supported life. And the Southwest Research Institute built two of the instruments that are on board the mass spectrometer called Mass Spec and the Europa ultraviolet spectrograph, which is the instrument that I get to work directly on. So that's one of the really exciting projects I'm involved in. Other projects that I get to work on include data from the Hubble Space Telescope and mostly studying things like asteroids and trying to understand what they're made out of, their composition. We've used a lot of different Hubble data sets to do that. But we're also getting JWST, James Webb Space Telescope data just this week coming in soon. So we'll get to really take it to the next level to understand these asteroids.

LP: All right. Exciting work you're doing. What's a professional achievement you're most proud of?

TB: So I think mine reflects a little bit on what Erin said as well. For me, I think it is those moments of realizing you can do something that you weren't sure that you could do before and proving to yourself that you are capable. I think that's always a really important moment in anybody's career. The exciting part about the type of research that I do is being part of a team and trying to learn something new about the universe that we didn't know already and. So most recently, we pulled together a team of scientists and engineers at Southwest Research Institute, but also with scientists and engineers across the country to put in a proposal idea to land a payload on the moon and study and look for signatures of water on the moon. And I ended up leading this effort. And it was a lot of work, but it was something to be really proud of because we really put in an excellent idea, really working with all these different instruments and all of these different people across the country. And we don't know yet if that will be selected by NASA. But I'm still really proud of the work that we put in and the way we were able to pull together such a really interesting idea.

LP: All right. Well, you have a great track record with NASA. So here's hoping that that one gets picked up as well. I wanted to ask you about Asteroid 26471, Tracy Becker. I don't know many people who have an asteroid named after them. So tell us about that. That had to have been a big moment for you as well.
additive manufacturing metal parts

DeCarlo analyzes materials, such as powder used to make metal parts in additive manufacturing, to collect data for engineering applications.

TB: Yeah, that was very exciting. One of the projects I didn't mention that I work on is also radar observations of asteroids using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. And when I was a student, actually, an undergraduate student, I went out there for an internship and started working on basically trying to figure out the shape and the orientation of the first known triple near-Earth asteroid system.

So this is an asteroid system. It was called SN263 that was somewhat close to the Earth. We pinged it with radar, so we were able to get it's speed. Just like a police officer's radar is able to know the speed and directionality of a car, we can do that with radar. But we can also get information about what its shape, and size, and rotation is. And so I worked on this project to understand the primary asteroid. But like I said, it's a triple. So this was an asteroid that had two moons. And it was the first one that we knew of that had two moons. And as a result of that work, I kind of have a publication in the field of asteroids early on in my career. And later on, the two advisors that I worked for at Arecibo ended up putting my name in for having an asteroid named after me. And so typically, the asteroids are named after people who have contributed in some way to the space field, especially if it's an asteroid-related topic. And so what's very cool about that asteroid, Tracy Becker, is that it's also a binary system. So it's also an asteroid with its own moon, similar to the type of work that I was doing.

LP: All right. 26471, all yours. Amazing. OK, so I'm going to go back over to Erin now for this next question. Tell us about your journey to get where you are today. How did you end up in your field of civil engineering?

ED: That's a great question. So I'll go back a little further growing up, as we usually do. So growing up, I worked a lot with my dad. So he wasn't an engineer by trade, but we did a lot of home remodeling. And it's so interesting thinking about that because that's the first time I feel like a lot of people with their dads or moms if they're so inclined with their parents just to work alongside them. We're problem solving. We're balling on a budget. We're trying to fix things, make things work, and ultimately, doing a bunch of home remodeling. So just that teamwork and that problem solving aspect, I really gravitated toward. And I was thankful that he gave me lots of time and listened to my ideas and things like that. So that was pretty valuable. But then going into college, I went to Tennessee Technological University. And I did study civil engineering. Interestingly enough, over the course of studying civil engineering, I kind of hated it because it was very code driven.

Southwest Research Institute recently delivered the MAss Spectrometer for Planetary EXploration (MASPEX) instrument for integration into NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft. Becker is part of the team that will explore the icy Jovian moon’s subsurface ocean for evidence of conditions that support life.

So you have these big code manuals for steel and for concrete to help design. And I just didn't understand where those came from. I understood conceptually where they came from. But you know how do when someone's mixing concrete at a site? How do you know that strength is x? How did we know that we designed it properly? And so I just had all these questions and ultimately didn't feel like a very good civil engineer. Luckily, I had research experience as an undergrad with a professor in mechanics. And she introduced me to concepts around composites, and different material properties, and failure modes, and things like that. And that did inspire me to pursue research and to apply for graduate school, which I did. I went to Vanderbilt University and studied under Dr. Sankaran Mahadevan. And his specialty is in reliability engineering and uncertainty quantification. So that exposed me to those concepts. And pretty much all the trepidation that I felt the-- you know, how do we know that this material is going to perform or the system is going to perform was validated by that whole field of risk and liability engineering?

But my research was in hypersonics, actually, because if you think about the things that we can test and the things that we know, there's not too many hypersonics, wind tunnels, and things like that that can explore some of the phenomena that's going on at those speeds. And so that was a big topic in uncertainty quantification. At the time, I got to spend four summers at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and work with the Structural Sciences Center there and look at the air thermal models and try to calibrate and validate them with the little bits of data that they had. And the question, or the overall question being, OK, what data should we actually go collect? And so that was my first foray into hypersonics. So that was my Ph.D. research. And then I came here back full circle, what's actually happening at the material level. And so yeah, it's nice full circle in thinking about those things from a holistic perspective.

LP: So moving over to Tracy now, Tracy, what planted the seeds for you? Tell us about your journey to get to where you are today. How did you end up in your field?

TB: So yeah, I had a defining moment. I read a book in second grade called I Can Read About the Sun and Other Stars. And I later bought that book on Amazon a couple of years ago just for nostalgia. But it was a book. And after that, I was just hooked. I read every book in the library I could. And interestingly, looking back on it, I also really wanted to share my knowledge, even back then. So I would write my own books with my own artistic drawings of the planets. But I was just really, really into the solar system, into space as well, but really into the solar system. And then I like to talk a little bit about this because even though I always knew from that point on that I wanted to be a scientist, I did follow some of my other passions as well.

So in high school, I did a magnet program. But it was for global languages and cultures because I was always very interested in language. And so I did that route and then still found my way back to space. In college, I had an astrophysics bachelor's degree, but also had a minor in Latin American studies. And so I kind of carried on having two passions. And in the end, one of the things I love about that, it really helped me because then I ended up going to places like Puerto Rico to work at the observatory there or Chile to work at the observatory there.

And so being able to know the language and some of the history of, for example, the country when I was in Chile was really, really powerful. And so I like to point out that even though I'm a STEM focused person, having some of that other knowledge and other parts of my interests play into it have been really helpful. So I did my undergraduate at Lehigh University, and then I went on to do my Ph.D. at the University of Central Florida. But it was during that internship at Arecibo when I studied those asteroids that I realized I liked galaxies and I liked stars, but I really, really liked planets. I really liked objects in our solar system, objects that we could see through a telescope in a way that we could maybe even go there. And that's what we're doing. That's when it really solidified that I wanted to be a planetary scientist. And I ended up studying Saturn's rings for most of my Ph.D. work. And since then, once I started at Southwest Research Institute, I've been mostly focused on studying Europa and also re-exploring my passion for asteroids.

LP: So I loved that, that you both brought up the interdisciplinary aspect of your work, but also that you both talked about how the seeds were planted in childhood. So I think it's important. Pay attention to what the kids are interested in, what they're reading, what they're doing. And that may end up being what they do down the road. So thank you both for sharing your stories, your background. You each could be your own podcast episode. And I'd love to do that someday and learn more about your work. But I do want to talk more about our topic today, which is Women's History Month. And with that, is there a woman in your field that you admire, that you looked up to? As we observe Women's History Month, tell us about a woman we should learn more about. We'll start with Tracy for this one.

TB: Sure. Yeah. So I think for me, it's sort of the big names in the field. Sally Ride was always an inspiration to me, Dr. Sally Ride, who was the first U.S. woman astronaut, the first U.S. woman in space. And I had the absolute pleasure of meeting her when I was an undergraduate student doing outreach with a local school. And she was doing these tours where she would go and inspire fourth grade girls, so just like you were saying, putting that inspiration in there, fostering that inspiration when you're a kid. And so I got to meet her. So that just extra solidified the fact that she was incredible.

I think at that time, even though it was only the '80s, there was still so much unknown about all those same pressures about women doing something that the men had already been doing. And she had to face all of that. And I'm sure it wasn't easy. And you need those pioneers to make it more normal. You need those pioneers to say, you don't have to look like Albert Einstein to be a scientist, or to be an astronaut, or do any of the types of stuff that typically, you only thought of as men doing. So for me, being at that level of pioneer-- hopefully, everyone knows Sally Ride's name. But if you don't, go look her up.

There's also a lot of really amazing people local. Because we're so close to Houston, Eileen Collins was the first female commander of the space shuttle. And she's actually on the board of the Southwest Research Institute. And I've had the pleasure to talk with her a couple of times. And I find her to be an inspiration. So I think all of these pioneers as astronauts are incredible. Even in the science field, too, there's a name that pops into my head is Linda Spilker, who is now in charge of the Voyager missions. She was also head of the Cassini mission around Saturn for a while. And so she's someone I think is worth looking up to because she's been doing really cool things since the '70s. And it's really put her mark on exploration of our solar system.

LP: So you gave us some homework here. If you don't know these names, go look them up, Dr. Sally Ride, Eileen Collins, and Linda Spilker. Erin, turning this question over to you now, who is a woman in your field that you admire that you look up to that we should learn more about?

ED: OK. So the woman in my field that I think about is actually very local in terms of someone that's actually at Southwest Research Institute. She's in my department. She's in the Materials Engineering department. Her name is Dr. Vicky Poenitzsch. And so she has no idea that I'm going to be mentioning her today. I saw her in the hallway this morning, and I was like, hmm. So she got her Ph.D. in chemistry. And then through a roundabout, I think she came to work for Southwest Research Institute. But she's so fascinating because she's an inventor. She led a team that won an R&D 100 Award for the high power impulse plasma source, being able to deposit high flux plasmas at low temperatures at atmospheric pressures, which is a pretty transformational thing in terms of coatings. You can probably interview her all about it. But yeah, so she developed that. She won a 40 Under 40 for San Antonio. And it's fascinating being in the materials engineering department and seeing its reach, but then also seeing the reach of individuals. And so I see that her and her team-- she now manages a team that they apply this plasma that she developed and in a myriad of different ways that are addressing not just coding problems, but also problems in clean energy, and clean water, and hydrogen storage, and things like that. So her individual reach is inspiring to me, and I also see that she works collaboratively across the entire Institute.

LP: So being here at SwRI, we are aware of Dr. Vicky Poenitzsch. Can you spell her name for our listeners?

ED: Absolutely. It is P-O-E-N-I-T-Z-S-C-H.

LP: So yeah, let's look her up too and learn more about her work. So great examples today of women we need to learn more about who are making history who are inspiring us. I want to turn now to Employee Resource Group here at SwRI. You are both members of Women in Science and Engineering, or WiSE. Great acronym, by the way. It's one of our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at SwRI. So give us an overview of WiSE. What is it, and what is the group's mission?

ED: Our mission as part of WiSE is that we aim to foster awareness. I'm going to read you the mission. --aim to foster awareness about issues that women face in the workplace. And our goal is to provide supportive opportunities that encourage the growth of women at the institute, women in STEM, and their allies. So one thing as WiSE becomes an employee resource group, our diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist, Veronica Pacheco will constantly say is that you don't have to be to belong. So you certainly don't have to be a woman to be in WiSE and become and be active in developing awareness for different issues that women face in the workplace. And so we welcome all.

LP: You don't have to be a scientist or engineer.

ED: Absolutely not.

LP: Yeah. Anyone who supports women in their work can join Women in Science and Engineering.

ED: Yeah.

LP: Great.

TB: And so we've been around for a while before becoming a resource group officially, which is new and exciting. But this started sort of informally several years ago by some of the employees here originally called WoSE, so WiSE is, I agree, is of the better acronym. Women of Science and Engineering turned in--

LP: Good call on that one.

TB: So it was just an opportunity to meet other scientists, other women across the Institute that otherwise wouldn't have gotten to meet. And we often had speakers from the community, just leaders in the community come and talk to us about what they do and how to be successful in their own fields, which played into inspiration into our own work. So even for example, we had one really interesting guest speaker who was the head of a bank. And she told us about how rather than maybe go for golfing with her clients, she took them to a spa. And I thought that was so cool. And actually, that ultimately evolved into the WiSE group one time doing our manicure-pedicure event at a local nail salon. And so I think those are really great ideas that you can pull from anywhere outside of science and engineering too of just ways to get people to connect with each other in ways that aren't as traditional as has been in the past in male dominated fields.

LP: While the group is an employee only group, you both and many members are extending its reach beyond our campus and into the community. So please tell us about your outreach work to recruit women to STEM fields, science technology, engineering, and mathematics. Let's start with Tracy on this one.

TB: Sure. So I think one of the best ways is just reminding people, again, that you don't have to have crazy hair and be an old man like Albert Einstein to be a successful scientist in the field. And so just being out there and talking with kids, I think, goes a long way, no matter who you are just showing that there is a diversity of people who are in the field and who are successful. And so I do give a lot of talks at schools. And I give a lot of talks virtually now, so I can reach people all across the country. And that's just one component of the outreach that I like to do. A lot of kids have never met a scientist, period. So I think this is where it doesn't necessarily matter if you're a man or woman.

If you're out there and just talking to kids, that's it's a really unique opportunity for them to actually meet a scientist and realize that you're a real person and not just in the movies, like these super hidden in a laboratory don't know how to talk to anybody else kind of perception that people get from the way that film often shows what scientists look like. And so I think just anybody going out there and talking with kids and giving kids the opportunity to ask you questions is unique for most of them because most kids don't grow up knowing scientists. So I like to try to do a lot of that. The outreach that I focus on as well is really meant to reach out to the whole community. So one of the things I love about being in space is questions about space, questions about, where do we come from? Are we alone in the universe?

Those transcend culture, transcend age, transcend country, transcend every aspect. Almost every person I've ever met has had that question. It doesn't matter what their background is. And so I love that being able to talk space, talk about space, talk about exploration connects with almost every individual that I've ever spoken with. And so we do a lot of outreach not just to kids, but to just people in the community who don't even realize that San Antonio, that Southwest Research Institute is literally orbiting Jupiter right now. Part of something that was built here and touched by people here is currently in orbit around Jupiter or flew past Pluto a few years ago. And so that's where Astronomy on Tap really came in. And Vincent Hue and I started in 2017, so that we could really let the community know about how much cool science is being done here in San Antonio.

LP: Yeah, tell us a little bit more about that, Astronomy on Tap.

TB: Sure. So Astronomy on Tap is an event where we learn about astronomy while drinking beers on tap. And so we host it at local bars. And it's open to all ages though. But it is a bar, but it's a restaurant. And yeah, really, that was the whole genesis of it, was the idea of sharing all this really cool science, letting people know that the science is happening right here, so local to them. And Astronomy on Tap is a national, actually, international organization. And we just opened up the San Antonio branch six years ago.

LP: All right. Don't ever let anyone say scientists and engineers are not fun because between the mani-pedis, going out for drinks all sounds like a blast to me.

TB: That's right. Yeah. We're people.

LP: Yes, exactly. I love that you're putting, like you said, a face to the title of scientists. Erin, let's talk more about your outreach in the community. As an engineer, who are you talking to? And what's your message? What are the questions you're getting?

ED: Yeah, so I think the big thing for me right now is making yourself visible. It's kind of a hard thing as women to do sometimes is just reconciling with your own visibility. And sometimes you go into a room, and you are the only woman in the room. And so you are naturally visible, but then also seeking opportunities to be visible. So yeah, so recently, me and a colleague, Mirella Vargas, who is a metallurgist in my department and a good friend of mine, she conned me into giving a presentation on breaking barriers in science as part of the Women's Global Breakfast. And so I'm hoping that next year, Southwest Research Institute will host a global women's breakfast on campus. And so that would be an exciting thing to do to, again, let people network within San Antonio as part of a professional organization and just bring women together to network and socialize. So I think that if I could go back in time and give myself some opportunities, it would be around grad school time. So I do feel like the time that I wish that I had a woman's voice or a woman's insight into how to develop a career and build a network, it would have been during that time. And so I think going forward, that's what I would like to invest time in, is how to reach graduate students, and give them the confidence, and give them the opportunities to build those build those networks and build those experiences.

And so I think just more direct mentorship. Looking around at the mentors that I've had over my career have been phenomenal, first of all, but they've been all men. And I value that. But I do recognize that sometimes, there are differences between men and women in the way that they navigate their careers, and the way that they grow, and the way that they interact with people in their field. And it's not always natural. And so I think that talking about that, and giving people space to talk about that, and also helping people navigate that is something that I'm passionate about.

LP: Historically, women have been underrepresented in STEM. Why do you think this is? What barriers do women breaking into STEM face?

TB: Yes. This is Tracy. So there is a lot of research into this area, so we need a couple-- maybe a whole series of podcasts to really delve into it. But there are a number of factors, including just the way, again, scientists are portrayed in the past engineers are portrayed in media. And there's a confidence thing that happens as well when you tell someone that boys are typically better at math than girls. And that starts to dig in. There's a lot of focus on fourth graders for that reason. That seems to be the age that younger than that, girls and boys seem to both think that they're equally capable and equally interested in dinosaurs and space and anything else. And after that, there's a break. And it's partly cultural because it really is-- there are plenty of other countries and cultures where there isn't this divide in the number of men and women who are engineers or scientists. So it's partly our own culture as well. And so breaking down those barriers, that representation, that lack of encouragement, I think, is really important as one of the main effects for why that starts to happen. But there are a lot of resources. And I encourage anybody to go, if they're really interested in it, to go look up some of those websites and studies that have really talked about this.

LP: What do women bring into STEM fields? Why is it important to see an increase?

TB: Yeah, so I think that's a really great question. And I think that historically, it's been suggested that just the skills that are more typically masculine are the ones that you need for STEM. And that's just not the case. I think when you talk about some of the more feminine traits, like communication, and organization, and these kinds of things, they actually bring something so powerful to STEM field as well. And we're just starting to realize this, I think. And some people can have a healthy 50/50 of both of those types of traits. But having that diverse set of traits is really key. So being able to communicate is really important when you're trying to send people back to the moon. And so if that's typically viewed as more of a feminine trait, then that's a good feminine trait to bring into the field, and therefore, bring more females in. And so I think that there's always just been this perspective that the type of skills you need are just those ones that more men typically demonstrate. And it's simply not the case. It's that interdisciplinary aspect that's really going to push us to the next level in all areas.

LP: Yeah, so one of the things that you had mentioned, Tracy, was that-- yeah, getting people when they're younger. Another WiSE colleague, Bonnie Blackburn, she referenced this Planet Money podcast episode called when "Women Stopped Coding," talking about in the '80s, you have this sharp dropoff-- or had this sharpdrop off in women that pursued computer science degrees because it was now advertised and now portrayed as a male field because men were interested and-- or advertised that they should go pursue computers, and technology, and things like that. And women didn't have that. The other thing is maybe by the time that they got into college, they had experience in tinkering around in computers and things like that. So then when they got into these classes, women got into these classes, they were immediately discouraged, like, you didn't know this? How did you not know this?

And I actually listened to that podcast last night in preparation for this podcast because she suggested it. And I kind of identified with that going through civil engineering. I had several men in my classes that-- they didn't discourage me. But I did feel like I didn't know something that I should have known in relation to construction, or rivets, or whatever. I don't know. And so automatically going into a STEM field and feeling like you were immediately disadvantaged and didn't have some perspective that you should have had, I do think is pervasive. And hopefully, we can alleviate that by introducing STEM earlier, as Tracy mentioned. So another thing in terms of resources, I've been thinking a lot about women in leadership and women in STEM and leadership and so just some resources that I found interesting.

There's a book called When Women Lead by Julia Boorstin. It's from the perspective of women coming into-- or trying to lead tech startups and trying to secure funding for those. And that's not too different than what we do in terms of R&D, trying to write proposals and lead the field. And so I thought it was it's been an interesting resource for me. And then also thinking about specific skills that women bring into the workplace in terms of leadership, I think vulnerability and authenticity often sometimes is something that is a powerful leadership skill. And it's maybe something that isn't usually associated with male-dominated fields, vulnerability. But research is a very vulnerable thing. You're opening yourself up to doing something that's wrong and being wrong. And so I think bringing that into the culture is something that is powerful. So there's a book by Brené Brown that talks about the power of vulnerability. And I found that really insightful as well. All right. Great resources. And I enjoyed listening to how you tied in these traditionally female characteristics and the value they can bring to these different STEM fields. What does the future of STEM for women look like?

ED: I love that for the most part, we see a lot of women doing a lot of things. But I do hope that we see more women higher up in leadership positions. I think that that's a powerful thing to witness and observe and have as a resource for other women coming up behind them. And that's not just leadership in terms of management and organization. That's technical leadership as well. Yeah, so I hope that we continue to see that and that growth.

TB: Yeah, I agree. I think ideally, it would be equal numbers of men and women working together. I think this extends beyond women as well. All different backgrounds and diversity really helps bring new perspectives. And if you always just stick with one perspective, you won't make that really unique advancement in science and engineering. You really need to pull from everybody who's had different experiences and where they can contribute something unique and combine all of those ideas together. And so for women in particular, yeah, I think there should be equal numbers of men and women. I think boys and girls are equally excited to do a lot of this stuff. And so I hope that women feel equally heard and equally included in their research. Whether or not the numbers are equal, I hope women feel like they can certainly speak their mind, they can feel safe in the environment, and that they can pursue whatever it is that they want to do. I mean, if the ultimate goal is to learn something new in science or if the ultimate goal is to build a spacecraft that withstands supersonic speeds or whatever it might be, that your gender or any other part of who you are isn't what matters. It's what you're contributing. And that's what really ultimately matters.

ED: Beautifully said. Oh, my gosh. Yeah.

LP: All right great information today. Two amazing role models for women in STEM. And you both leave us optimistic that we'll see more women taking on the challenges of STEM careers in the future. We celebrate you and all women positively impacting our world this month as we shine a light on women who tell our stories. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your stories with us, Erin and Tracy.

TB: Thank you so much.

And thank you to our listeners for learning along with us today. You can hear all of our Technology Today episodes and see photos and complete transcripts at Remember to share our podcast and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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Ian McKinney and Bryan Ortiz are the podcast audio engineers and editors. I am producer and host, Lisa Peña.

Thanks for listening.


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