1) What first got you passionate about tech?
I was kind of a late bloomer, actually. Up until my sophomore year of high school, all I wanted to do was write poetry (awful middle school poetry). My best friend wanted to take a robotics class, and I wanted to have a class with her, so I signed up. Funnily enough, she’s actually now majoring in creative writing and I’m majoring in bioengineering.
Once I was actually in the robotics lab, I loved it. I was good at putting the pieces together, but one project in particular sticks out to me. My teacher and wonderful mentor, Mr. Herman, had built a box with obstacles in it, meant to represent a mine shaft. We couldn’t see into it; the challenge was to build a robot with an attached ultrasonic sensor and bluetooth transmitter to send back measurements so that my partner and I could draw a map of the inside of the box. This was right around the time that the San José Mine near Copiapó, Chile had collapsed, leaving 33 people trapped underground. All of a sudden I knew I could build things to help people, to turn the icons on the computer into the real world–but it would be the world I imagined. I had the capacity to change things, and I was hooked.
2) What is most interesting about technology to you?
I think it’s so exciting how much technology is constantly changing, accelerating. I met a ten-year old girl in April who had, one month prior, been rushed to Philadelphia for a last-ditch effort to control the spread of her Stage IV cancer. But she was running the Survivor’s Lap at Relay for Life because she had been injected with a modified version of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which would have been a death sentence thirty years ago. But it had been modified to attack her cancer cells, and she was cancer-free. That’s incredible.
By that same token, engineering is changing. It’s not about sitting in front of a computer in a darkened corner, working on a simulation and never talking to anyone else. It can be about working in a team, outside, or in a futuristic office building (google headquarters, anyone?).
3) What advice would you offer to middle school girls who are interested in technology?
Give it a chance. But not just one chance, ten or fifteen or a hundred chances. Technology is so big, and there are so many things to love or hate that you can’t decide from your math class if being an engineer is right for you. There are women in science who draw characters on computers for movies or video games, women who wear steel-toed boots on oil rigs out in the ocean, women who work to build prosthetic limbs for patients, women who write the programs on your phone, and thousands more. All of those things are really different, and you could do any of them. I hated learning about circuits, but I loved learning about the brain. I’d make a terrible electrical engineer, but that never meant that science wasn’t for me.
Photos by Felice Macera.