By Dino W. Buchanan, Honolulu District Public Affairs
Five Honolulu District women employees shared their personal, educational, and professional experiences entering and working in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) career fields March 31, during the District’s annual Women's History Month celebration.
“USACE needs STEM graduates as there are large numbers of retirement-eligible personnel in USACE - and the District – so we will need a pipeline and talent pool to fill those jobs in the future,” said Honolulu District Commander Lt. Col. Christopher Crary in his brief introduction to the presentations. He added that in the next three to five years there will be a one million person shortfall of STEM professionals since college students completing STEM degrees today are taking other non-STEM jobs.
Speaking to a standing room-only gathering of employees, Archaeologist Dawn Lleces, Cartographer Sarah Falzarano, Civil Engineer Lauren Molina, Supervisory Environmental Engineer Uyen Tran, and Civil Engineer Jennifer Eugenio each described the processes of joining STEM career fields.
Dawn Lleces said as a child she couldn’t decide what career path to follow.
“I originally wanted to be a doctor, but I never really had a plan. Throughout my career, no matter what I did professionally, I’ve always surrounded myself with the best people in that career field – they were the best of the best. They were the movers and shakers of the community – and the leaders of tomorrow. After I landed my first job in 2002, my very first professional project was the U.S. Army’s Makua EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and the second project was the U.S. Army’s Stryker Brigade EIS – probably two of the hardest projects ever worked on in this state or the nation. I enjoy being where the action is, where decisions are being made, and where my work behind the scenes helps make those decisions. For me, (working in a STEM field) was an exercise and a leap of faith that I followed.
Falzarano explained that her STEM path started at home.
“My mom has been my mentor and is a real big inspiration for me – making sure different opportunities were always provided for me and instilling in me the important ideas that the same opportunities should be afforded to both men and women,” explained Falzarano. “What I learned from my first job in data entry was that GIS was a really powerful tool, and it made me realize that when I got out of college I didn’t have a marketable skill. Although my current job has very little to do with my passion for science and is primarily technology, I’ve learned here to really push the envelope with the technology to help the other scientists, the engineers to accomplish their jobs and missions. And it’s been very inspiring for me. “
“My career in STEM started at home,” Molina said. “Both of my parents were chemistry teachers, so naturally there was a lot of science talk at home and it influenced me to enjoy studying math and science in school. As a child not knowing the (career) options of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ was imposing. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher and I didn’t really know what else was out there. I have an older brother who was going to go study engineering in college and I think that really was the first time I had heard about engineering. I thought engineering was going to be a good fit for me – being able to apply math and science to real world problems and trying to make a positive impact on the world. The takeaway lesson from my experiences is that you just have to keep trying different things until you find the career you really want."
Uyen Tran’s path into a STEM field started early in her life.
“I chose math as a field of study in (elementary) school because there is, almost always, a solution to a math problem, moreover the subject only required a written exam at the end of every school year, as opposed to a combination of oral & written for other subjects” said Tran. “That’s how I started (in the STEM field). My original college degree was in math before I went on to earn chemistry and chemical engineering degrees. Through all of the jobs I’ve held, it seems to me that the math training I had really helped me in my analytical problem solving. Math is everywhere to me. In my current job, there’s a little bit of chemistry, little bit of engineering, but it’s mostly analytical thinking and problem-solving. So I think it’s a good field (math) to go into.”
Eugenio talked about her role in the District’s STEM outreach activities and the increasing need for Corps employees to participate in those events.
“The impact we (the Corps) can have on students at a young age to gain interest in STEM is amazing.” Eugenio said. “Just us being out there at (student engineering) events shows we are serious about their interest in STEM. These students are our future and getting STEM education into the minds of middle school, high school and even elementary age students is key. Having them understand that you can have a career in engineering and that engineering is all around us opens up interest and endless possibilities for these kids. To get that information into a person’s mind at those ages is vital and all it takes is a little bit of time and effort, showing that we (the Corps) care about what their STEM interests are.”
Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick has asserted that the Corps of Engineers is a leader in solving our Nation’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) challenges and “STEM education remains critical to the technical competencies of the Engineer Regiment and to the future of the USACE civilian workforce.” USACE is actively focused on recruiting recent/future STEM graduates by creating more than 100 formal partnerships with STEM-focused universities and colleges as well as offering more than 1,000 STEM Internships each year.