When I realized I did not want to stay on a career path to become a teacher while pursuing a degree in Secondary Education Art Education and Music, I was approaching my senior year at the University of Nebraska— Lincoln. The epiphany came while working at the Physics & Astronomy Department at UNL and I was introduced to computer programming. I was working with their business manager on budgets for NFS grants. He pointed me to the computer lab and I started work on card key punch machine to build my first program.
I finally landed at the local public broadcasting facility in Nebraska, NET. That was 30 years ago and the technology changes we experienced during this time were nothing short of spectacular, Moore’s Law exemplified.
I purchased the first computerized traffic system shortly after I started and the progress the institution has made has been remarkable. In 2001, I became the first female engineering director when I was hired to manage the Information Systems Division. I was fortunate that our CTO Michael Beach gave me the opportunity. He opened the door and I never looked back. Mike is now the vice president for distribution at NPR.
Frankly, I never identified myself as any different from my counterparts. At the end of the day all the Engineering Division directors were tasked with effectively managing our departments to support NET’s institutional strategic priorities.
One counterpart in engineering joked with me shortly after I was hired, asking “Did I plan on replacing the Ethernet cabling with pink cables?”
I realized this was an opportunity to break the ice and I replied “How soon do you want that?” We both smiled and I never looked back.
My passion for technology and team building skills propelled the department forward. A few years ago, we hired the first female CTO at NET, Ling Ling Sun. The one aspect that became clear over the years is that very few women were applying for jobs in engineering. I realized I wanted to change that.
This May, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and University of Nebraska sponsored an event “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.” I attended with my granddaughter, Lexi. One of her elementary school projects was building a robot that would shoot a ball into a basketball hoop. She was fascinated with robots and I wanted to feed that spark she had for technology.
The best part of that day was the hands-on time she had experimenting with mentors. She built a circuit that could light up a window on a greeting card that she made. She was thrilled when it worked. Her mother had just run a half marathon that morning, and she told me she was going to give it to her to tell her how proud she was of her.
I realized that the most important role I have as an engineer is to encourage her generation who have a passion for technology to know that nothing can hold them back if they believe in themselves. They can do anything… including being an engineer.