Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women in STEM
The month of March is known across the world as Women’s History Month. It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments and strides that women have made to leave their mark on the world. More importantly, it’s a time for us to reflect on how we can continue to #BreaktheBias within our facilities.
Our workforce at Textron Systems is largely made up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles, and as of March 2022, 59% of our women work in STEM related roles.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1970, women made up 38% of the U.S. workforce and accounted for 8% of STEM workers. That number has since increased, and in 2019, women made up 48% of the U.S. workforce and 27% of STEM workers.
We’ve asked Amelia Reuter, Senior Control Systems Engineer, Lycoming Engines; Caroline Bills, Mechanical Engineer, Howe & Howe; Nina Chen, Software Engineer; and Alina Viehweber, Environmental Health and Safety Engineer, about their accomplishments, inspirations and growth as STEM professionals.
Read their responses below:
In your opinion, why is it important to celebrate Women’s History Month?
Nina Chen: It’s important to recognize all the successes and achievements women have made throughout history. They have constantly been undermined and pushed aside. We want to continue to celebrate women so that all women can have more opportunities to grow, learn and make an impact.
Alina Viehweber: Women have had some incredible accomplishments throughout the years and continue to have incredible accomplishments on the daily. It is important, not only to reflect on how far we have come, but also to share some of these accomplishments to help inspire both generations like my own, as well as younger generations.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
Amelia Reuter: Because engineering is how you get to work on the internal of everything, learn how they work, make them better and test them. It’s such a broad field but allows you to be close to the actual products and see the impacts of your work.
Caroline Bills: As a youth in the wilds of Maine, I was always asking “why.” Why does the car turn over slower in the cold; why is lightning so loud; why does Piscataqua bridge not fall down like it’s in London? Likely sick of answering these questions, my grandfather gave me “The Way Things Work”, an illustrated book explaining a variety of machines and tools from can-openers to crankshafts, which I devoured. When college applications rolled around, I was all about math, but my mother pointed me toward engineering as a more real-world use of my four years as a cool kid on the math team. I wasn’t convinced until using the lathes and drill presses and welders in the RIT machine shop, when I fell in love. College romance aside, I realized that engineering is about having a million different ways to answer a problem and the fun of figuring out the best one.
Nina Chen: My mother has been my greatest inspiration. She is the smartest person I know and the hardest worker. She earned two master’s degrees in engineering. She helped me through all my advanced math courses in school. Every day, she would sit down with me and explain math concepts to me. If she didn’t know them, she would read my textbooks and later teach me. I grew to love math because I had the best teacher. She laid the foundations for me to be able to problem-solve and critically think which are invaluable skills I can bring into any career I chose. It is because of her that I am now an engineer.
Alina Viehweber: I would love to say someone like Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, or Jane Goodall, the famous primate scientist, but for me it was my dad. I was fortunate to grow up alongside a dad who shared his personal interests in engineering with me. When it came to deciding a major for college, it was an easy decision for me since I knew I wanted to pursue a career in engineering.
Which of your career accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
Amelia Reuter: I am by far and away most proud of getting LCAC 100 through acceptance trails. Tackling that craft piece by piece, learning how the system would be used, learning fundamental underpinnings of the system to expedite troubleshooting, solving problems to discover and resolve new problems that lurked below. Seeing everything coming together for successful runs and laying the groundwork for future execution is one of the biggest accomplishments of my career to date.
Caroline Bills: Upon being hired at Howe & Howe Inc., the Ripsaw® M5 unmanned ground vehicle design was well underway. As the first project I worked on, I learned a lot about the design and manufacturing processes and the company as a whole. It was the first time I had seen components I’d designed implemented on delivered vehicles.
Alina Viehweber: I always think it’s important to celebrate the small accomplishments, so simply graduating with an engineering degree was a big cause for celebration. The most recent accomplishment would be spearheading a new employee resource group (ECO-Systems) focused on sustainability to help encourage and foster employee engagement around sustainable practices.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Amelia Reuter: My favorite thing is the variety of problems and challenges that I get to work on. There’s always something new happening and something to learn about and that keeps me interested.
Caroline Bills: Having the expertise of such a knowledgeable community of engineers and manufacturers makes the design process flow more easily. Any time a question arises, an open discussion about improvements, flaws and new ideas is just a staircase away.
Nina Chen: I like that my job is challenging, but I really like that I have a team that supports and encourages me to take on those challenges. We emphasize collaboration and making sure everyone is heard, and I appreciate that everyone’s always trying to learn together. I think the work we're doing is exciting, but I look forward to working because of my team.
Alina Viehweber: This might sound cheesy; being able to make a difference. Working as an environmental engineer within the Environmental, Health and Safety group, I get to ensure that we meet all of our environmental compliance requirements, which in return ensures that we are not polluting the surroundings in which we operate. This includes protecting our local waterways/wetlands, reducing air pollution and hazardous waste, as well as spill prevention and management. I recently also took on sustainability which has been an exciting task to figure out a road map for Textron Systems to decrease their carbon footprint.
Do you have any advice for women who may be interested in a career in STEM?
Amelia Reuter: Do it! Engineering is such a broad field so whatever you’re interested in, you’ll be able to do work related to that. Whatever you think engineering is, it’s way broader than that and is a strong foundation that will allow you to go wherever you want to go.
Caroline Bills: Do it. In a heartbeat. If anyone is even considering engineering, they won’t regret it. The field is open to such a variety of work, there is no way you can’t find a perfect fit. Submarines to firefighting; military to commercial; office work to greasy hands; California to the UK – that’s just what I’ve been through in 10 years. The opportunities are endless.
Nina Chen: The best ideas and solutions come from diverse teams. It’s something I’m still working on, but it’s important to speak up if you have an idea, and being in such a male-dominated field, our voices are even more important.
Alina Viehweber: Having a support system of other women in STEM can be so important. Thankfully today there are more and more women who are pursuing a career in STEM and are able to empower and build up one another. Groups such as Women in Engineering, or even women’s employee resources groups, can not only help provide great mentorship opportunities but also friendships with likeminded women.
How has Textron Systems helped to foster your career growth?
Amelia Reuter: I have had to ability to work directly with several people over my career that have formally and informally acted as mentors that have helped me grow. There’s never a shortage of people to discuss problems with, help overcome challenges and to learn from.
Caroline Bills: The proximity to the manufacturing floor at Howe & Howe Inc. has provided the opportunity to learn about the design process in a more hands-on, direct way than is commonly available. The ability to follow a part from conception, CAD design, cutting, welding, dry-fit, powder-coating and full assembly yields a very satisfying feeling of ownership.
Nina Chen: I’ve had the opportunity to work on multiple teams and everyone I’ve worked with has been open and willing to answer questions and help me learn. I’ve met and connected with many people who have helped me grow technically and personally. I have built trust with my managers and mentors who have been pivotal in guiding me through different challenges. It's really the people at Textron that contribute to my growth.
Alina Viehweber: In the short amount of time that I have been at Textron Systems, I have had the opportunity to lead several projects and was given many resources to ensure I would be successful. I recently started pursuing a certification in sustainability, which my manager encouraged me to do. I have even seen how Textron Systems has helped foster and grow the careers of my colleagues.