Women in STEMWe all hope that the stereotypes of women working in male-dominated careers have faded over time. I’m no longer fearful of hearing, “But you can’t possibly be good at a man’s job if you’re a woman,” though in my opinion women are just as capable in anything we put our minds to. To further this point, I interviewed my friend Karly Chester, a materials engineer. She has an Associate of Arts in Business Administration, a Bachelors in Business & Management, a Bachelors in Materials Engineering, and a Masters in Technology, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship.

Lauren Wheatley: What made you interested in engineering?

Karly Chester: There are two reasons. The first is that I’m a 4th generation engineer and my mother is a civil engineer. I grew up knowing about it and learning different topics in civil and environmental engineering. It was never a subject that I thought was just for men and it was never something I ever thought I couldn’t do. Secondly, when I was getting ready to transfer to a 4-year university as a business major I started feeling very uncomfortable with my future prospects in that field. The way people compete directly with each other in business school isn’t something I like. Also, I wanted to have a more tangible skill set that I could fall back on for the rest of my life. If I started a business without any real skill or knowledge and failed I would have nothing left. However, as an engineer if I get a job in one area or start a business and fail I can always go back to basics and find a job in engineering.

LW: A very intelligent approach, since if you tried business and it didn’t pan out all of your time, money, and energy would have been for nothing. Though business education is offered everywhere, was it difficult finding a school that offered engineering aside from trade schools?

KC: It’s not hard to find a school that offers engineering. It is difficult to find a school that offers materials engineering.

LW: What’s the difference between engineering and materials engineering?

KC: Engineering is the broader subject and Materials Engineering is the specific field within that subject. Engineering is to History as Materials Engineering is to Modern English History.

LW: What type of jobs can one get within the field of materials engineering?

KC: So, the great thing about materials engineering is that you can really work in any industry you could possibly think of. The only place we don’t directly work in [is] the service industry. However, materials engineering is prevalent in products that support the service industry. There are a few types of things materials engineers do. The most unique to our field is we design and develop new materials or improve existing materials. A great example of this is Gorilla Glass made by Corning. They developed a new type of glass that is highly resistant to scratches and breaking.

Another type of job a materials engineer can have is doing materials testing. In this type of job engineers ensure the material is working how it’s supposed to. We also do materials selection and advise businesses and projects on what type of materials are best for their application. Lastly, a very popular area, is failure analysis. Often companies will hire a materials engineer to help determine why something broke. This helps the owner of the product, anything from a bridge to a bottle cap, determine if it was user error, material failure, or a design flaw.

LW: Fascinating. I wasn’t aware a materials engineer could accomplish so many tasks – so they’ll always have a job within any company as products always require maintenance or repairs?

KC: Yes and no. We don’t really fix things we just advise on what material should be used to fix or improve something. But, as long as we use more energy and require our products to be stronger and do different things there will always be a job for a materials engineer or scientist.

LW: You said that you never thought of materials engineering as a male-only field. When you hear men or women surprised that there is a female in the field does it upset you?

KC: I don’t think it upsets me. What DOES upset me is when I’m doing outreach to young girls and they don’t think going into a STEM field is even an option for them. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get younger girls to see that you can still be cool if you do work in a STEM field. Also, I think there are enough females in the field now that we’re not anomaly just merely unique.

Do you know a young woman interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field? Contact Karly via Facebook.

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