This is part of our HERStory campaign, featuring women who are changing the world with their innovative work in STEM fields. In interviews conducted by Technovation Girls alumni and student ambassadors, we’re sharing stories and advice from women in STEM.
Meet Rene and Josephine. Rene Strauss, an Engineering Group Manager at General Motors, spoke with alum Josephine Elumeze, who is currently studying chemical engineering at Laguardia Community College. The two women in STEM discussed choosing to pursue a career in STEM, role models, and becoming a leader.
Watch the video for all of Rene and Josephine’s conversation, but here are some of our favorite moments:
On choosing engineering as a career
At the heart of Rene’s decision to pursue engineering was an interest in problem solving. “I like solving problems — I think that’s what really drew me to engineering to begin with…it wasn’t necessarily a passion for cars or a passion for airplanes, it’s more of a passion for solving problems, for getting to the bottom of something.”
But pursuing an engineering career also had its challenges – “I loved going to school. I loved learning about everything…in high school I’d be getting all A’s, but then in college I would get B’s and C’s sometimes. And that would make me doubt myself and think, ‘Well maybe I can’t do this’, but, maybe I had to work a little bit harder sometimes for things that didn’t come as easily to me, but I worked through them, and I learned from them.”
Rene’s persistence and ability to work through setbacks and challenges – including by building a network of friends to make studying more fun and social – emphasizes the value of having a growth mindset. It’s a good reminder that learning is about knowing that you can learn difficult things, that getting a wrong answer or a bad grade doesn’t mean you’re a bad fit for the subject or career you’re pursuing. It’s just an opportunity to develop a stronger understanding and an invitation to try again.
On women role models, and the importance of mentoring
“Besides my mother, I wouldn’t say that I had other female mentors.” Rene told Josephine. “To me, that’s a big reason why I like to mentor others, because I don’t think that I had anyone to look up to necessarily. I didn’t even know any female engineers when I went into the field.”
For Rene, that mentorship takes many forms, including leading the GM Women STEM Outreach team – “I get to go out to schools and try to improve our community by reaching out to young girls and telling them, ‘You know, I really think that you can do this. Look at me, I did it too. You can do it.’ And, ‘Oh, by the way, the woman at the top of our company did it, too!'”
On being the only young woman in the room
Don’t let male-dominated workplaces intimidate you, Rene advises – “the important thing is just to be yourself and to remember things like working well on a team or being creative or communicating well [are] just as important when you’re making a product as having [a lot] of technical knowledge. So just because you’re not the smartest person in the room or the most experienced person in the room, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have something to add – you should speak up, you should be bold, and you should be a different perspective … because that’s what makes a good team, a lot of different perspectives coming together.”
Jospehine added that she has just recently had that experience herself in one of her engineering classes, where she was the only young woman – and the only one with the right answer. “From that I learned that just because you think people are more experienced than you, or know more than you, that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to add to the table.”
Josephine also asked Rene what she wished she had understood about leadership when she was younger. “As a young woman, one thing would have been really helpful to understand is that in order to be a great leader, you don’t necessarily have to know the most about something … You can be a great leader by being the best organized person, or maybe the best person at holding a budget, or the person at motivating others on your team. You don’t have to know every detail” Rene explained.
“What you want to be is the most empowering person in the room. You want to empower those around you to take ownership and to be leaders in their own space.”
Thank you to Rene and Josephine for sharing their warm, inspiring conversation with us and being so candid about the challenges – and joy! – they encounter as women in engineering. Stay tuned for more interviews between women in STEM and Technovation alumni as part of HERStory. You can make HERstory too – join Technovation Girls as a student or support girls around the world as a mentor, or help us support more girls and families this year.