By Cari Lyn Vinci
Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have something in common with Frank Sinatra (ask your parents). He was known for doing things “MY WAY” and sang his way to the top of the charts. Today, Millennials are taking a cue from the “Chairman of the Board” and figuring out how to become “Chief Executive Officers” of their lives.
And so the story goes for the young women interviewed for this article. If you own a business, are employed or work as an independent contributor, you are CEO of your life when you take charge and take responsibility to create your dream life and career. When you visualize yourself as a successful adult, when you understand the connection between education and lifestyle, you can commit to getting an education to create a dream life. But first, you need to know what is possible.
ME, Inc.’s goal is to help teens with that discovery. These Sacramento area young women have various backgrounds, interests and career paths, yet they have several things in common. They all made challenging career choices; they LOVE their work and the chance to help others; they earn a “very comfortable” living that provides opportunities for growth; they chose STEM careers (science, technology, engineering or math) that allow free time for family, friends, travel and FUN; and they are having “the time of their lives.” We are telling their stories to help teens discover and visualize their future.
Everyone jokes about how it “doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to figure something out. But Elaine Schreiber can figure it out because she is a rocket scientist -- at Aerojet Rocketdyne! She credits her career choice to her high school math and chemistry teachers plus her best friend’s brothers who were headed to Cal Poly.
Although she was terrified at the time, she approached a recruiter from Cal Poly and applied through a special program. Elaine needed to get over the initial shock of being the only girl in the college class and thinking the guys in the class knew more than she did. Elaine admits it can be very intimidating and she almost left. But Elaine didn’t give up.
When it finally hit her that no one in the class was any smarter than she was, she decided to stick around. With a degree in Math and Science, Elaine has more doors open and she can move across disciplines. But book-smarts aren’t all that Elaine brings to the table. She is a great communicator, great at multi-tasking, has interpersonal and organizational skills. These “non-textbook qualities” enabled her to become a project engineer intern, which helped in landing a job and advancing her career. Elaine made smart choices and she has never looked back.
Girls who Code
For Kristen Beck, getting paid to ask questions is a daily occurrence in her capacity as a UCSD Korf Lab PhD Candidate at the UC Davis Genome Center. “I get to be curious all day and share my results with others,” she says. Over the years, Kristen had many role models including her Mom, who is a geriatric-social-worker-turned-successful-entrepreneur. Surprisingly, in high school her computer education was limited to learning Excel; programming wasn’t even taught.
Fortunately, in college, Kristen’s undergraduate instructors believed in her and encouraged her to continue school to get her PhD. As instructor and advocate for “Girls Who Code,” Kristen enjoys seeing the 15–17-year-olds transform as they learn to program. It’s not a scene you see every day: high school girls with laptops working in groups experimenting with controlling a robot as their fingers tap on laptop keyboards.
Kristen explains that “Learning coding is learning problem-solving. These skills are confidence builders and life changing for the students.” Kristen says: “Work now is very different…it’s a new thing…Millennials work to be happy. As a computer programmer, work is always changing. I can work anywhere with a laptop, at home or in the park. There is great support in the office. I would tell my teenage self to learn to prioritize; to be highly productive and efficient so I can take time to exercise and de-stress and find a work/life balance.”
Faith Friend is a clinical scientist working with the organ transplant team at Blood Source. I had a great role model because my mom was the first non-male scientist I knew. My science teachers in high school were all men and nearly every one of my science professors at UCD were men too,” says Faith, who would like to think that those statistics are changing.
She always loved science and when she decided not to go to medical school, she looked into many professions that required a Bachelor of Science degree and ended up in a good place career-wise. “In our lab I would say that women stay because they are surrounded by other supportive women and they like the fact they can provide comfortable lifestyles for their families.”
Elizabeth Stevens-Klein works for the US Army Corp of Engineers, she has an 8-month-old baby and a stay-at-home husband. When she was young she had no idea what she wanted to do, so she thought about what she liked. “Growing up on a farm, I had an interest in natural sciences -- mostly biology and chemistry,” says Elizabeth. “Then, my high school chemistry teacher showed me how to study and explained to me that there really is nothing wrong with a woman becoming a scientist.”
The time came in high school when Elizabeth felt a lot of pressure to choose a college major and she didn’t want to pick one because she though that meant a life-long commitment. She took a year off, worked as a waitress and went to a community college and taking random courses to see what she liked. Elizabeth found her answer in geography…because it “encompasses it all.” Today she is one of the few female geotechnical engineers working with the armed services and loves her career and the life she created. Yes, Elizabeth is a “Rock Star.”
Lighten up and relax
Theresa Iiams, a software development manager at DST Output, was always a ‘math geek’ and computer science relies heavily on that background. “I expanded my skills in programming and analysis while working with a very successful database administrator. She was a mentor and teacher for me.” My STEM career at DST Output provides a comfortable salary and since technology is constantly evolving, the opportunity for change and problem solving.
Tammy Dysert is director of systems development at DST Output and loves it. She had a friend and mentor who taught me. “I can do anything I put my mind to”. She also taught me that work/life balance is important. “I like that I get to solve problems every day. There is always some new challenge and I never get bored. My career has allowed me to travel all over the world.”
“I have worked in Scotland and New Zealand. It can be challenging to survive in a field that has been dominated by men, but it is important to persevere. Take it as a challenge to break through the barriers. It is worth it. If I could talk to my teenage self, I would tell myself to lighten up and relax.”
Olya Blasé’s parents helped her think through her options. They asked her, what could you study to land a job or open your own business? They asked her what do you enjoy doing that is marketable? She excels in math. So, she took internships to gain experience to decide if she liked the field. A former boss helped her learned to set boundaries and create a balance work/life. Her company, Ernst & Young, gave her an option to work three days a week and that allows her to be with her children. Millennials want flexibility and Olya’s lifestyle is a prime example.
Rebecca Peirce was influenced by her grandmother and aunt (both nurses) and became an emergency room nurse at Sutter General. Because she is interested in science and math, she volunteered in the ER and went back to college at 23. She enjoys the fast pace, the something new everyday environment. Her career allows her to be compassionate and to think on her feet. Taking care of people and teaching them is a big part of what she does and she enjoys that. She works, “crazy, long hours (12-hour shifts); but only 3 days/ week.” Rebecca reports, “I am well compensated and have benefits. That is a big plus that allows time and funds to update our house, save $$ and to live without any financial stress.”
Joyce Hribar at SMUD is the first Civil Engineer in her family. “I get to build things. It’s amazing what a team can do when you are all working together towards a common goal. It’s rewarding to see a photo of a bridge and very cool to hear my kids say, ‘Mom, there’s a bridge you built!’” Her grandfather had a very strong influence on her education.
Joyce said: “He was a Superintendent of Schools in the Philippines. When he retired, he came to live with us. He bought a huge blackboard for us and would bring home workbooks from the local drug store. I have fond memories of playing school with my grandfather and working on math problems on the big blackboard. It was fun for me. Little did I know he was building my strength and love of Math. Technical fields and engineering, in general, are highly regarded and pay very well. If you manage your pocketbook wisely, being an engineer gives you the opportunity to live very comfortably and have fun. If you like science, technology, engineering and math, careers in these fields can be very rewarding. Women are in demand in these fields … because they are technical and good problem solvers.”
Bright Futures in STEM-related Careers
To sum it up, what do a rocket scientist, a civil engineer, a nurse, director of systems development, a clinical scientist, a software development manager, and a GIS specialist all have in common? They had role models to influence and guide them, they strive for balance, a family and a career, and their educations provide a most comfortable lifestyle.
They interned or took entry-level positions to get in the door. But because the fields they pursued are in such need of their talents, there is no limit to what they can achieve. As a result, they are making a difference in the world by helping others. And even though they’ll acknowledge that it’s HARD work, they are determined and are succeeding. As Faith said, “Failure isn’t the absence of success; it’s the absence of the attempt.” These women are CEO’s of their lives. What sets them apart? Their STEM careers helped put them in charge to create their dream lives.
About ME, Inc.InVINCIble Enterprises is developing ME, Inc. to empower smart, talented teens to become CEO of their lives. The program presents inspirational role model storytelling, success skill development, life planning, mentoring, and networking opportunities for motivated teens. We collaborate with Clients who have a vested interest in developing talented youth to help solve talent pool problems for Fortune 500 companies; provide greater ROI on education for students and parents, and reduce dropout rates at universities and colleges. To learn more, contact Cari Lyn Vinci at email@example.com.