Featured VISTA Blog: Supporting the Next Generation of Women Engineers
By Elissa Lee
VHEC’s AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, which falls under Vermont Campus Compact, focuses on improving college access and success for first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in Vermont. VHEC currently has 8 VISTA members serving in a variety of offices at 6 different campuses around Vermont. This is the first monthly post in a new series that highlights individual VISTAs and the increasingly important work they are doing. This post highlights and was written by Elissa Lee, the AmeriCorps VISTA serving at Vermont Technical College. She is a 2016 graduate from Vermont Tech, where she received her bachelors in Business Technology and Management. Elissa currently lives in Essex, VT.
As the VISTA with Vermont Technical College, my focus and work are to help address the issue of gender equity. My work involves encouraging young women to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in order to break the cycle of poverty and break through gender barriers. Vermont Tech’s STEM majors include construction management, software engineering, civil & environmental engineering, professional pilot technology, mechanical engineering, diesel power technology, and more. These majors are considered non-traditional for women, and yet they are some of the fastest growing and highest paying fields today.
Bringing STEM Opportunities to High Schoolers
Vermont Technical College aims to create a positive change for young high school women by encouraging them to keep an open mind to potential futures in STEM. During summer, Vermont Tech hosts the week-long Rosie’s Girls STEM Leadership Camp, where girls entering 9th and 10th grade get to try out a variety of non-traditional careers such as landscaping and web development. After the camp, we pair attendees with a mentor for the following school year who will provide them with advice on high school classes, college studies, and careers. I provide resources, updates, and information to the campers, their families, and our team of 22 mentors, who are managed by my supervisor, Laurel Butler, and myself. Our mentors come from a variety of educations and experiences in STEM, with some being current students and faculty at Vermont Tech—representing majors such as mechanical engineering and architecture — and others being professional working women from companies such as Globalfoundries, Hypertherm, VT Trans, and UTC Aerospace. With the help of these amazing mentors in collaboration with my efforts as a VISTA, we hope to spark the interest and love of science and technology in high school girls all over Vermont.
Creating Support Networks
This fall, members of Vermont Tech’s Gender Equity Committee and myself worked with female students in STEM majors to create a new club called the Women in Technology and Engineering Club, or WeTEC (pronounced We-Tech). Many female students at Vermont Tech feel like the only woman in their major, so the club provides them with the opportunity to find and offer support to one another. The club will focus on exploring futures and careers in STEM, connecting members with Vermont’s communities, and providing professional development. At our club launch lunch event, we had 15 female students come, as well as several faculty and staff members who were thrilled to support the club.
My role with WeTEC involves providing connects to professional development resources and helping them create greater awareness in the college community. Interested members have the opportunity to join the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where they’ll have access to professional networks, advice from women engineers, and educational materials. The club plans to travel to technical centers and high schools across Vermont to talk about being a woman in STEM and the amazing opportunities that pursuing an education in STEM can create!
Becoming a VISTA
I found out about the opportunity to become a VISTA for Vermont Tech when, by chance, my parents started chatting with Laurel Butler, who is now my supervisor, during my college graduation ceremony. A few exchanged business cards, many phone calls, and an eagerly submitted application later, I found myself with a great learning opportunity to serve with the college I attended. I am thrilled to serve with Vermont Tech just months after graduation and to be part of a project whose purpose and goal are very near and dear to me.
Vermont Technical College plans to continue working toward gender equity by connecting with Vermont’s communities and educating its staff on the importance of gender diversity. As the college’s VISTA, I will continue helping the college track its progress and efforts to influence gender equity and make a positive difference for the women engineers, scientists, and mathematicians of tomorrow. I’m so excited to keep working with Vermont Technical College and I can’t wait to see what VISTAs after me are able to do.
Keep an eye out for updates and news about Elissa’s gender equity projects at Vermont Tech, including Vermont Works for Women’s annual Women Can Do! Conference in Randolph, WeTEC, and Vermont Tech’s new Gender Equity Speakers Series, at http://www.vtc.edu/news.