1:1 Thought-Leadership Interview by Heather MacLean from the March Special Edition of ENGEOActions
This sounds like a powerful claim to make and if anyone can do it, Kristen Culberson a grade 12 New Brunswick student can. Culberson will be attending the University of New Brunswick next year in engineering and I had a chance to talk to her to learn about her plans for the future.
MacLean: Right now, you are just starting your last semester in Grade 12, tell me about what your plans are once you graduate.
Culberson: I am pretty focused on what I have in mind for my future. I plan to attend UNB in mechanical engineering and then go on to biomedical engineering research with a focus on prosthetics. There are a couple of paths that I can take to get to my ultimate goal. If I decide that mechanical is not the right path for me, I can either change to electrical or chemical. Regardless, my end goal remains the same.
MacLean: I love hearing how focused you are. So many people in high school don’t yet know their passion. Do you think that you could potentially work for UNB’s biomedical institute?
Culberson: Absolutely! As one of the top five institutes in the world, it is definitely a goal of mine to work there.
MacLean: Again, you are very focused on what you want. What got you interested in engineering?
Culberson: I have always loved math and science, but in high school and specifically grade 11 when I started taking more applied sciences like chemistry and physics, I realized that I really liked doing the hands-on work. That lead me to engineering. I also love the areas of medicine, so when you combine medicine and engineering, the logical progression for me is the path of biomedical engineering.
MacLean: As you know, there is a significant effort to get more girls interested in STEM. What has been your experience when you talk about what you want to do and your interests in STEM?
Culberson: I can’t say that I have ever had anyone openly discourage me, but at the same time, I have surprised a lot of people when I tell them what I want to do. The most interesting response is when people ask me if I am sure that this is actually what I want to do. The answer is always an empathic, yes!
MacLean: That actually raises a great question. What about role models? What role can they play?
Culberson: There is no question that I look for female role models and I don’t see a lot of women, around me, in those roles. That is not to say that there aren’t women in engineering, of course, there are. I just don’t see a lot in my local area. And naturally, seeing someone who can be an inspiration is important. I think seeing more women would lessen some of the nervousness that girls in my position have when making the decision to pursue education and a career in this field.
MacLean: Well, you are certainly going to make your mark helping young girls and women that come after you. You will be a mentor and an inspiration with the work you are doing. Tell me about She Can Change the World: Girls in Stem!
Culberson: It’s really about introducing STEM subjects to girls in grades 3-6 to show them that there is nothing to be afraid of, and that they are actually fun! Right now, I have five planned across the Upper Saint John River Valley in Woodstock, Perth-Andover, Hartland, Florenceville and Nackawic and they will all be completed by the end of February. In addition to having three hands-on exercises, I also have secured a female presenter for each location. I think it is important to have a female who is training or working in engineering who can be a role model and provide inspiration.
MacLean: For someone who is doing this for the first time I am impressed with how organized you are. Not only have you made arrangements with public libraries to host your workshops, but you have also secured a sponsor, Brian McCain, who’s support has resulted in you being able to offer these workshops at no cost. This is a phenomenal opportunity to increase participation. Tell me more about this.
Culberson: I am really pleased to have a working relationship with the public libraries. Not only does this mean that we have a great spot to use on the weekends for the workshops, but they also have significant experience with programming of this nature. I am also fortunate for the support of Mr. McCain. It was, and is, important to me to be able to open up this programming to all girls and this sponsorship means that there are no financial barriers that could limit who gets to learn about STEM and women in STEM.
I would also add that this would not be possible without the Dr. Walter Chestnut Library accepting the donation on my behalf. They have been so helpful with everything and have been able to purchase supplies for me through their networks. This really is about collaboration, community and learning, a great mix.
MacLean: Well, I don’t think I could have said it better myself. I believe that Culberson can achieve anything she sets her mind to. Not only does she understand the path she wishes to follow, but she also has the attitude and soft skills that will take her far! I think we will have another Thought-Leadership interview for the future with her.
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