STEMpowerment

Posts in category STEMcouragement

Let’s Talk Nurses!

Timing is everything! 

Miss America was on TV a couple weeks ago, and I actually happened to catch a little of it while catching up on my most frequent chore – folding laundry! 

If I remember correctly, I hoped Miss Tennessee would win because she was a vocal STEM advocate, in addition to being stunning (all of the women were).

It wouldn’t be Miss America though, if there weren’t controversy. This year did not disappoint! Within a couple days, there was scandal over the comments on The View about Miss Colorado and her speech about being a nurse. 

Timing is everything.

The comments ended up being especially poignant to me because I coincidentally had a series of fantastic experiences with incredible nurses and other health care professionals last week.

You see, my best little girlfriend broke her arm. In two places, I came to find out.

Trying to get a little sleep after a very long night in the ER

 
She’s a tough cookie, which made it hard for us to tell if we should take her to the emergency room right away or not. I finally decided we needed to get it checked out when she cried in her sleep. 

Not much is open at 11:30 at night, and I have no patience for waiting when my baby is hurting, so we made a “quick” trip to the emergency room. 

Spending the night (or just part of the night) in the ER is miserable – seriously! But, we were cared for by a great team. Everyone we met from the security guard to the to the doctors, to the radiology techs, nurses, and PCAs were fantastic. There were thoughtful, kind, and patient with my over-tired, hurting toddler. And – they knew their stuff! 

We went back to the doctor for another appointment a couple days later to get a hard cast put on. We talked to the doctor for just a couple minutes (he was wonderful!), then another woman (a nurse or a PA?) was the person to actually put on the cast.   

Action shot! a broken n arm won’t hold this girl up! She was playing hard at a bounce house party 2 days after the cast went on.

    
Never having broken a bone, I was surprised the doctor didn’t do the cast himself – but it makes sense! If the doctor takes the time to put on all the casts, it limits the number of patients that can be seen.

Since I was experiencing healthcare first hand, and listening to the news about the role of nurses in healthcare, it made me think about my most pivotal healthcare moment – again, one that was shared with my sweet little STEMinista.

When I was pregnant with her, I had a serious condition called placenta previa. I’ll spare you the details, but it was serious enough that I spent three weeks on bed rest (2 of those in the hospital) before she was born.

And she was STILL six weeks early!

She was so early, and so small and sleepy, that she spent 19 days in the neonatal intensive care unit.

If you want to learn about the role of nurses and the impact they have in peoples’ lives, try spending some major time in a hospital.

As Miss Colorado discussed in her monologue, the nurses were the first people I talked to every day, and the last people I spoke to at night. For me, they did everything from giving IVs, to administering medicine, to monitoring my vitals,keeping me calm when I went into premature labor, and even making a ribbon bow to pin on my Halloween baby skeleton shirt. They knew their science and their medicine, and they showed compassion and love as well.

Our experience in the NICU was even more remarkable. The doctor popped in twice a day to check on the kids, but the nurses were literally with the babies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Teenage girls get a reputation for being high maintenance, but NICU babies are SERIOUSLY high maintenance. They need diaper changes, baths, and weigh-ins, they need to eat every 2-3 hours (often through feeding tubes), they’re hooked up to all sorts of tubes and monitoring wires, and sometimes they forget to breathe on their own.

Yes, you read that last part correctly. They sometimes forget.to.breathe.on.their.own.

One of the most unnerving parts of the NICU to me was that there were babies whose breathing monitors went off almost every time we visited. An alarm would sound, and if it didn’t go off after a few seconds, a nurse would literally go over to the baby, and wake him/her up as a reminder to breathe. It was terrifying the first time I saw it, the last time I saw it, and every time in between. These little ones literally rely on the care of nurses to do something as simple as breathe.

On top of all that, the nurses deal with over-hormonal, over-tired, stressed out parents, while implementing doctors’ orders and caring for their little patients. Bless their hearts. It’s an incredibly hard job. One that I don’t know if I would have the stomach or the heart for.

So, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank all of the nurses (and other health care professionals) out there for the hard work you do – but especially the nurses. You’ve made a dramatic impact in my life, and I am so grateful for each and every one of you, whether you’re using a ‘doctor stethoscope’, a ‘nurse stethoscope’, a ‘PA stethoscope’, or any other stethoscope. 

-theSTEMinista

STEM: Create Your Own Career Path

CareerPathIt’s been a busy couple of weeks at my house. It’s hard to say for sure, but I think the biggest thing going on at home has been that my son started kindergarten last week (does that make me old?!?), and my daughter started at a new preschool. As such, there has been much discussion at home about how grown up STEMboy is, and what he thinks the future holds.

If you ask him what he wants to be, his answer alternates almost daily, between:

  1. Paleontologist
  2. Artist

Obviously, LOL. Two professions I would never compare with each other – but the boy loves art projects, and the boy loves dinosaurs. For awhile, his favorite show was Dinosaur Train.

We were driving to visit a relative the other day, and STEMboy wanted to play a guessing game (a common occurrence in our family).

STEMboy: “Mom, I’m thinking of an island. Guess which one!”

Me: “uhhhhhh…..Mackinac Island?”

STEMboy: “No”

Me: “Hawaii?”

STEMboy: “No”

Me: “Seriously?!? I have to guess any island in the whole world? I need a hint.”

STEMboy: “It’s really old.”

Me: (jaw drops to the floor. I know immediately what he’s thinking, but can’t believe he knows what he’s thinking) “Uhhhhh….Pangea?”

STEMboy: “YES!!! That’s it!!! How did you know that, mom?!?”

Me: (over my husband’s laughter) “I’m a scientist, STEMboy. How do YOU know that?!? Do you know what Pangea is?”

STEMboy: “Of course mom – It’s the island that all the land used to be in a long time ago. It was on Dinosaur Train”

Which of course led to the discussion of how continents shifted, and why that’s relevant to finding dinosaur bones.

Ahhh……moments like this send my heart aflutter. I love seeing my four year old independently learning about science (even if it is from TV), and sharing his love of science with us and others. If he grows up to be a paleontologist, I already know that he will genuinely love his job. If he grows up to be an artist, I’m sure he’ll love that too and of course I’ll support him in that endeavor as well. I can’t wait to see what he will become, but as a parent, my biggest concern is that whatever he does make him happy.

Aside from dinosaurs, is there a STEM-related message in here?

Wait for it….

Wait for it….

It’s coming – but another story first….For now, just remember that STEMboy changes his mind daily about what he wants to be when he grows up.

photo-1439003511744-2a0490ea0a88

Another reason for all the recent commotion in my house is that my husband, Mr.SciGuy left his job in automotive engineering back in the spring to pursue a new career. The summer has been full of licensing exams, training trips, and adjusting to a completely different schedule for SciGuy.

So what led to the change, and why?

If you haven’t already read all my previous posts, automotive engineering is a very lucrative career. It has great pay, good benefits, and job stability.

BUT

It’s also a very high-stress job. The timelines are tight, and a single mistake can cost thousands, millions, or even billions of dollars. SciGuy was in a job where every day, he had to call and yell at people, make threats, and try to fix emergencies he didn’t cause.

Ugh – can you imagine? It’s an important job, but it wears on you.

Over time, SciGuy came to realize that this wasn’t the job he wanted to do the rest of his life. He wanted to be having positive interactions with people every day. He wanted to make peoples’ days better, not worse, and he wanted to make a difference in the community where we live.

After a lot (seriously, a LOT) of research, thinking, and planning, he decided to pursue a dream that’s been rolling around in his head for over a decade. SciGuy submitted his resignation to his high-paying automotive job to pursue a new career in financial advising at Edward Jones.

A lot of family and friends seemed to be completely baffled by the change at first, but it makes perfect sense to me.

SciGuy has always loved money and money management (if you know him, ask about his famous amortization Excel worksheets or the cost of money over time), working with people one-on-one, and helping others.

As a kid, one of his nicknames was “Alex P Keaton”. (If you are young and missed the magic of 1980’s television, I’m sorry for your loss).

Lastly, he has an incredibly strong math and research background thanks to his engineering degree (foreshadowing: can you see where we’re going here??). While he had no direct experience working in finance, the transition so far has been incredibly smooth because he understands that math, and has a lot of experience in learning to learn challenging concepts.

 

So how does this apply to you?

 

If you think you know what you want to do for the rest of your life, but aren’t 110% sure, the versatility of a STEM degree can ensure your success, whether you stay in your planned career path, or not. A STEM degree gives you so many options and so many resources. You can go anywhere, and you can do anything.

Even if you decide ten years into your career that you want to do something completely different than what you’ve always done, a STEM background can make the transition simple and quick (and now I can say for sure to trust me and SciGuy on that!).

That’s HUGE – I can’t emphasize enough how important it is. A lot can change over the course of a decade or even over the time it takes to get your degree. As you gain more educational experience, work experience, and life experience, you’ll better appreciate what you want, what you don’t want, and what really makes you happy. In the big picture, being happy is what matters.

You can find a career that works perfectly for you, or you can write your own job description. Having a job that you find fulfilling will make waking up and going to work every day tolerable – even fun! With a STEM education, you can do anything, chase any dream, and create your own path in life!

Where do you think your path will take you?

–theSTEMinista

Am I really going to need this when I grow up?

Grow UpFor some of you, the first day of school has already arrived, while others are going back in the next week or two. As you get back into the routine of waking up early, going to class, and (ugh!) homework, you may be thinking about the meaning and importance of everything you’re doing.

When you grow up, will you ever need to figure out how much force is needed to push a car up a hill if the coefficient of friction is 0.8? Will you need to know the 12 cranial nerves and what they do, or how to titrate an unknown acid, or how to use calculus to find the volume of a solid object?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

I use a lot more STEM skills in my job than I ever expected to as a student, but I’m also a scientist for a living. Even still, I would never consider doing many things I learned as a student by hand.

Doing math the old-school way

Doing math the old-school way

If I need to calculate an integral, I can do it on a computer. If I need to check an anatomy concept, I can look it up in a book, and if I want to move a car up a hill, I generally either step on the gas if the car is running, or call a tow truck if it’s not (right? You know what I’m saying here!). If I needed to titrate an unknown acid, I suppose I would have to do that by hand, but honestly, how often does one come across unknown acids?

Doing math the new-school way

Doing math the new-school way

I know if you’re a student, you totally feel me on that, but let’s take a step back and look at the overall principal instead.

Part of the importance of school work is to make sure you understand the underlying big concepts. You don’t necessarily need to do the math or the science every time, but once you have done the work yourself once or twice, there’s a lot better chance that you comprehend the basic theory behind the concept.

That way, when we know it’s easier to push something up a slippery hill than a rough hill, and that a cube has a bigger volume than a sphere of the same width, and that adding a base to a solid makes it more neutral, we can explain at least a little bit of the ‘why’ that goes along with the answer.

In STEM, there’s even a little bit more to school and learning than just the big concepts.

Part of school is learning HOW to learn.

Chances are, you’ll go into your first job (and second job, and third job, and so on), and you’ll need to learn a lot of things they never taught you in school. If you’re a student, trust me on this. If you’re a professional, I know you’re nodding your head in agreement.

For instance, if you move to Detroit and work for one of the big 3 automakers (that’s GM, Ford or Fiat-Chrysler for you out-of-towners), you might start out working on transmissions. You’ll need to learn about gear ratios, material properties of metal, linkages, and how to assemble all the parts. No college degree program will teach you all the intricacies of the job without you getting some hands-on experience. But don’t worry – if you have a STEM degree, you’re used to working hard, studying, and using your analytical thinking skills to solve problems.

If you work really hard, and become a walking encyclopedia of transmissions, you might get a promotion to managing a team that does exhaust design. In exhausts, there are a million new things to learn. You need to understand the chemistry of volatile gases coming out of the engine, how they combust, and how the exhaust system removes the chemicals so the car isn’t polluting the air. Plus, another function of exhausts is to quiet the sound of the engine, so you’ll need to learn some basic acoustic concepts as well. By now, you’re probably also doing a little bit of work of planning the production in a remote factory, and trying to optimize the costs as well. And you’re managing a team as well. Good thing you did lots of team work in your STEM education!

Go you - lead that team!

Go you – lead that team!

Luckily, if you have a STEM degree, you’ll have a basic understanding of many of the foundational principals you’ll need to use in the job, and by now, you have YEARS of experience at quickly learning new material. Your STEM background makes you pretty much the best employee ever (but we knew that would happen anyway, right?!?).

Do you see where I’m going with this?

The details of all the work you’re doing may be tedious, and we each have an area (or two) that we find to be even more tedious or more challenging than the rest of the curriculum. But, all that hard work does have a purpose.

Doing all that work in detail ensures you understand the fundamentals of “why”, and it teaches you how to learn. So, grab a water or a coffee, sit down at your desk, and get to work. Do those integrals. Memorize your flash cards, and look forward to those lab experiments. Read your textbooks, and ask lots of questions. Put your heart and soul into learning the fundamentals, and learning how to learn, and you’ll be giving yourself the best possible foundation for a successful career.

Have a great school year!

–theSTEMinista

You are a natural born scientist

Ever wondered what it looks like from the top of a mountain on a cloudy day?  This is it

Ever wondered what it looks like from the top of a mountain on a cloudy day? This is it

Have you all missed me? It’s summer vacation for most students, and I’m in the middle of my summer vacationing as well. This week, I’ve been lucky enough to spend the week vacationing with family – not just me and Mr SciGuy and the junior STEMkids, but also my parents and sisters and brothers-in-law. We’ve had a lot of fun, but blogging has not been a priority.

The other night, I was taking a quick look through Twitter, and noticed a couple posts from parents talking about STEM “a-ha! moments” with their kids. That got me thinking about something –

Kids start their lives out as scientists

We are all born as scientists. We begin life by first becoming aware that we have surroundings, and then observing them like crazy. We experiment with our surroundings to learn how things do or don’t work, and how we fit into the world around us. As we grow from children to babies, we supplement our sensory and experimental data with information through spoken word and eventually by reading. Kids often ask questions to a fault, but often times, their questions are quite insightful.  Questioning is a key way for kids to learn about the world around them.

Since I was spending the week with family, I paid extra attention to seeing the world through my kids’ young scientist eyes. It was so fun! Lots of moments that might normally just pass by in conversation, I purposely tried to refocus into questioning and learning moments. We saw a flock of geese, for example, which led to lots of questions:

Which goose is the leader? Why can’t they fly? Why are they molting? What is molting?

Brilliant question for a 2 year old:  which goose is leading the other geese?

Brilliant question for a 2 year old: which goose is leading the other geese?

We saw lots of bugs, spiders, butterflies, turtles, deer, fish, eagles, and hawks. We talked about each animal’s habitat, what they eat, etc.

Check out this guy!  I leaned in really close to get a picture, and my sister yelled at me, "bright colors mean poisonous!"  Thanks for the heads-up, sis!

Check out this guy! I leaned in really close to get a picture, and my sister yelled at me, “bright colors mean poisonous!” Thanks for the heads-up, sis!

We hiked and boated through mountains, and talked about what makes the fog at the top, and how layers of rocks are formed, and how rivers flow.

We dropped rocks into the lake to see if they float or sink, and what kind of noise they make, and we conducted a few experiments to see if you get wetter swimming or in the rain (for kids wearing life jackets, their heads get much wetter in the rain than they do swimming – kind of counterintuitive to me, upsetting to them LOL). We listened to the sounds of a sunny day, the sounds of a rainy day, the sounds in a thunderstorm, and the sounds at night.

We played hide and seek daily, which reinforced concepts of scale, and how to systematically perform a search. Aside from their inability to stop giggling as the seeker approaches, my kids are now awesome at hide and seek.

It was fabulous. I learned a lot by searching for answers to my kids’ questions, or from asking friends and family for their insights.  More importantly, I think we all had fun posing questions and looking for the answers.

So, if you ever get down on yourself, and wonder if you can do STEM, consider how far you’ve already come. You developed from a tiny human who knew nothing, to where you are now.

You know so much about the world works, but there is so much more you can learn. Instead of being intimidated by what you have yet to learn, think about how much fun your learning journey will be. Look at the world through the eyes of your four-year-old self, and don’t be afraid to ask the questions a child might ask. Sometimes, something that seems obvious may be very complex, or something that seems complex may have a very simple rationale.

Embrace your innate curiosity to better understand things. Question everything, experiment when you can, and look for resources anywhere you can. Don’t look at learning as a job, look at it as a challenge, or a game, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.

To those of you in America, have a happy and safe Fourth of July, and I’ll talk to you soon!  In the meantime, I’ll be using #kidscientists on Twitter to talk about STEM concepts discussed in my house – share yours with me on Twitter too (@theSTEMinista)

–the STEMinista

An Inventor Is An Engineer

inventor engineerHi everyone, I’m still really excited about the interview with Brian the other day – wasn’t it great to hear about how he uses STEM to engineer cars through engine acoustics?  As I was transcribing the text (note to self: next time use smart phone to do something smart, like transcription), the following words from Brian really stuck with me:

“An inventor is an engineer”

That’s a great way to look at it!  Inventors are really engineering solutions to different problems.  For a lot of things now, the types of things being ‘invented’ aren’t made by a single person (I hate to be the one to break it to you) – instead, one person may come up with an idea, and use a team to bring that concept to fruition or, a single person may come up with an invention for a single update or upgrade on an existing product.  Or, maybe you’ll come up with a brilliant, unique idea that you can implement all by yourself – who knows – you could come up with the next Selfie Stick!!

Do you have a favorite invention?  I have a couple – I love my daughter’s SoundSpa machine – it helps her sleep like a charm, I love my KitchenAid Mixer, I obviously love my phone and whoever invented Netflix.

Want to know what else I love?

The Wheel.

Can you imagine being the person who came up with that one?  Can you imagine life without it now?  I wonder if it was accepted quickly and caught on right away, or if people told the person who invented it “go home – you’re crazy!”

I wonder what types of transformative technologies we can look forward to in the next 100 years?  Will you be the one to develop them?

–theSTEMinista

PS – I got the opportunity to write a guest post on the Wayne State University President’s Commission on the Status of Women blog  – of course it’s STEM related – and because it’s a women’s organization, I was thrilled to write on the topic: “7 ways to recruit more women into tech careers” – check it out if you’re interested!

Can I succeed in STEM if I don’t fit the stereotype?

stem success

In one word: yes

In one sentence: You are capable of more than you could even imagine, and the world needs your ideas and input to conquer and solve some of its most difficult questions.

 

If you’re in a hurry, you can stop there. I wanted to make sure everyone who clicked here had the chance to see that, even if you don’t have time to read a whole blog post.

Have another couple minutes? There’s more:

Every one of you reading this is capable of succeeding in STEM.

What does it take to succeed in STEM?

A curiosity to ask science, engineering, technology, and math questions, and the interest to look for the answers.

That’s it.

Your gender, your skin color, your income, and anything else about you? Doesn’t matter.

YOU have the innate ability to succeed.

I admit – there may be difficulties along the way. You may be the only ___A____ in a room full of ___B___. Fill in the blanks for whatever applies to you. For me, I was very frequently the only _girl_ in a room full of _boys_.

Do you know what though? Every other ___B___ in the classroom with you will have their own struggles in their path through STEM as well. A lot of times, the people getting under your skin the most are the ones facing the biggest personal struggles in their own lives.

If you’re doubting yourself because you aren’t like the others around you, or because you aren’t like the people you envision in your future job, don’t let that stop you. You are more like them than you imagine (unless you’re half fish). You have goals and dreams and aspirations, and a unique perspective that makes you who you are.

When you go to work in a STEM job, you are bringing that perspective with you, not just your classroom knowledge. You have an entire collective of your own experiences, and your own approach to thinking and problem solving based on both your personality and your past. To employers, this is an asset. You are unique and valuable, regardless of being ___A____ , or even better – you are unique and valuable because you are ___A____.

Most days, being an _ (girl)__ in a room full of _ (boys)__ wasn’t a big deal for me. We were all students, and we all had good days and bad days. Some days, it was challenging to be different from everyone else. There have been a few rare really bad days where I’ve let someone nasty get under my skin. To be honest, days like that suck. A lot. Those days are very few and far between. My response is to pick myself up, move on, and to become a better STEMinista – just to prove that nasty person wrong.

There are two people I can think of in the past who have told me I couldn’t succeed in STEM because I’m a _girl_. Want to know something cool? Those two people, who made me feel absolutely horrible in the past are the whole reason I started going to talk to young people about pursuing STEM. I took that negative energy, and turned it around to bring about what I hope will be positive change. Not only did I work all the more harder to prove that I could succeed, but I’ve made it a point to make sure that all of you know that YOU can succeed too.

So, maybe you’re different. Maybe you don’t fit the stereotype. That isn’t bad. That just makes it all the more special when you pursue STEM, and you DO reach your goals. I love telling you this, and I’ll tell you over and over and over again:

YOU can succeed in STEM. YOU have what it takes, and I believe in YOU.

Happy Monday, and go kick some STEM butt this week!

 

–theSTEMinista

 

P.S. My feelings about this subject are really strong. I am not kidding when I say I believe in YOU.   We will come back to this point – over, and over and over. I could stay up all night talking to you about why I think people who don’t fit the stereotype are ideal for STEM careers. To those of you who do fit the stereotype – I could write all night about why you fit perfectly into STEM, too. To spare you a 4000 page post, we’ll come back to this later – many times. But know that I believe in you and you can succeed in STEM.

Wise Advice From Ben Franklin

knowledge investmentRemember yesterday when I talked about math?  I got a little carried away with the length because it was so excited.  Buried deep down near the bottom of the post was a quote from Benjamin Franklin:

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”

I noticed this guy on the side of one of our buildings as I was walking to lunch today, and thought he was the perfect backdrop for Mr. Franklin’s words.

Do you know much about him?  He was a pretty cool guy.  Not only was he one of the founding fathers of the United States, but he was also a scientist, and inventor, postmaster, spy, and a number of other things – talk about a well-rounded guy!

As the high school year winds down, and the summer semester for college ramps up, lets keep investing in ourselves – we are our own biggest asset!

–theSTEMinista

Go get ’em, Tiger!

You can do it!

You can do it!

Am I the only one who kind of has a case of the Tuesdays? I am pretty behind on my normal tasks because of all the amazing things I got to do last week. Plus, I missed work yesterday because my little STEMinista wasn’t feeling well. Today, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed from all the catchup work I have ahead of me.  I thought we could all use some animal motivation to power through the evening and the rest of the week. Big things happen when you attack your goals!

Plus, later this week, we’re going to have another tiger-themed discussion – I can’t wait!! Go get ‘em, all you STEM tigers!

–theSTEMinista

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