The need for speed drives a passion for engineering

Michelle Rodriguez is a mechanical engineering major who is pursuing a double minor in flight technology and unmanned aerial systems. She expects to graduate May 2017. She is currently an intern at Rockwell Collins and Larsen Motorsports, home of the Florida Tech jet car. She feels very lucky to work with jet engines and loves every split second of it. MIchelle

What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?

Both of my parents are electromechanical engineers so I grew up in a very science-y home. I’ve been helping my dad fix the car and everything around the house since I can remember and I’ve always loved learning how things work. I used to pull things apart and then go running to my mom so she could explain what every part of the mechanism did and how it worked. I asked so many questions that one day my mom bought me a book called “How come? Every kid’s science questions explained” just so I stayed quiet for a while. This is why mechanical engineering seemed like the logical choice.

How have you overcome obstacles and challenges as a woman in STEM?

The women in my life have been great role models who have taught me that we can do anything and we shouldn’t take no for an answer. I work at an aerospace company where most of the employees are men and sometimes there are small comments about how I don’t know things because I am a woman but instead of letting it bring me down, I just show them that we are as capable as they are.

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?

Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you can’t do things. Work hard and try to be the best you can be. Read more and ask more questions. Be patient and take every opportunity you get to explore what engineering is because it will lead you to find what you actually love and want to do with your life.

What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?

Go for it. It’s a very fun industry, you’ll have some obstacles but it’s worth at the end. There are many fields you can go into so try a little of everything until you find what you really like. You will know when you find it because it won’t feel like work.

What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?

That the few women that are in STEM right now know the struggle you’re going through so they are willing to help you improve and succeed. Most of them are more than happy to help you and mentor you.

In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?

Leaders should be open to showing how they work. It’s not the same when someone tells you how cool science is than when they show it. I’m also working at Larsen Motorsports and since the moment I got there, Elaine Larsen (president of Larsen Motorsports) has made me feel I could learn and do whatever I put my mind into. Every day we see how hard she works, but we also see that hard work pays off. I was amazed at all the jet engines they had from the moment I got there, but the second I heard that engine start, I was hooked. In my experience, a good leader is someone who reaches out to young women and takes time to talk to them. It may not seem like much at the time, but that push might help a young woman decide to enter a STEM field

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