Women In Science and Engineering Program Inspires Girls to Appreciate Science and Math

by Susanna Chen

On October 19th, 40 girls from schools across Frederick County gathered at the Earth Space Science Laboratory (ESSL) to inspire their collective appreciation for all things involving science, technology, engineering, and math, or more simply known as, STEM.

Established 15 years ago, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) is a program founded by Lisa Bruck, a former Catoctin High teacher, as an opportunity for girls to become more involved in a field where they are traditionally underrepresented. After becoming the director of the ESSL, the responsibility of this club was passed on to Linda Mosser and Colleen Beall, both specialists of secondary level science in Frederick County. Running strong into their fifth year, Beall and Mosser continue to oversee the program with unfaltering enthusiasm for the message they are spreading to young women.

Every month, Beall and Mosser aim to host a successful woman in STEM as a speaker in hopes of inspiring curiosity for STEM among the girls in attendance. This month’s speaker, Briana DeVincenzo, is a systems engineer at NASA.

Originally from Boston, DeVincenzo moved to work at the nearby NASA offices. Her job, as Flight Vehicle Test Suite is to debug simulators which checks satellites for issues by testing them in a software environment that is almost identical to the environment they would approach in space. Currently working in the test team, she hopes to move on to more architectural roles in developing simulators in the future after finishing her studies for a master’s degree in systems engineering.

She said, “My favorite part about my jobs the people that I work with and the whole culture around NASA. Just being surrounded by so many brilliant minds that are capable of grasping technical things challenges me to learn and grow. It’s a very exciting work environment. I feel like I have a lot of mentors. There’s so much opportunity to learn and grow.”

Her journey to finding her passion was not one free of struggles and questioning. As the captain of her school’s math team, her interest in STEM was obvious. However, enrolling in college at Wake Forest University, she was unsure of which path to choose for a career, resulting in a series of changes in majors during which she experimented with her interests. It was not until her junior year, when she obtained an internship at NASA that she discovered systems engineering. “I didn’t even have an idea what I wanted to do in college. Really there’s no way to know what you want to do until you put yourself out there and try out things,” she stated

It is important to support women in STEM in a society that impresses gender roles which discourage girls to consider becoming an engineer or scientist as a viable career route.

Junior MacKenzie Brennan said, “Everybody thinks that in order to be in science, you need to be a guy.”

This fact is reflected by the existence of this program which pushes young women to be more receptive towards opportunities in STEM.

Mosser stated, “Because women are so underrepresented in STEM  fields, we deter that by encouraging young women at the high school level so that maybe more of them will consider pursuing it in college and then taking it on as a career.”

DeVincenzo believes that promoting the STEM field to women will improve upon the discoveries and progress being made as it would diversify the ideas and thinking. She said, “Despite everyone fighting for equality and whatnot, men and women are very different in the way that they think. I just think that having both sides, both types of brains in the industry, gives you more creative solutions to problems. Just the diversity in general of different kinds of minds and personalities makes a difference in the workplace.

At its core, WISE is a program to support women by presenting them with opportunities and encouragement. Stated Beall, “An important part of being a women in science is that you form a network and we’re starting here..Women are really gaining, but STEM is still male-dominated so it’s really important to support women. I saw a really cool film that said that women benefit from encouragement, and that’s what we’re trying to do: encourage and show role models.”