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Breaking the Barrier - Women in Stem




Like other engineering disciplines, fire protection engineering is a highly male dominated field. According to Zippia.com, upwards of 80% of fire protection engineers in the United States are male. Days like “Introduce a Girl to STEM Day” are important for inspiring young girls to pursuing careers like fire protection engineering and expanding the pool of engineers. To celebrate and promote this day, our very own Gillian and Sam took some time to discuss their inspirations for going into an engineering field and what their experiences have been like so far.


What made you interested in STEM?

Sam: “I can’t pinpoint the exact thing that spiked my interest in STEM, but I have always been around it. My mom is an engineer, and she always had me doing STEM based activities even when I was younger. We would put together snap circuits and spend a lot of time in science museums. I can’t really remember a time in my life where I wasn’t interested in STEM.”


Gillian: “I can’t attribute my interest in STEM to one event, however when I was younger my grandfather and I had matching creepers and we would change the oil in the family cars. I have always been fascinated with taking things apart and putting them back together- better than they were before.”


Did your middle/high school have STEM programs outside of core classes?

Sam: “I was fortunate that my school district had a wide variety of offerings. Besides core classes in middle school, it was required to take a quarter each of computer science and technology/shop each year. They were my first STEM classes that were different than math or science. My high school also offered engineering courses through Project Lead the Way (sponsored by RIT), which is an engaging, hands-on classroom environment, as well as other STEM electives.”


Gillian: “My school did not offer STEM programs or trade courses outside of the core classes. However, when I reached high school, I was able to start taking college courses through several of the local universities.”


What advice would you give to women who are interested in STEM?

Sam: “I would tell women who are interested in STEM to be confident in their abilities and to not get discouraged when it gets hard.”


Gillian: “You can do anything you set your mind towards.”


When did you know you wanted to become an engineer?

Sam: “When I was in kindergarten, I told everyone I was going to be an engineer, just like my mom. Then throughout school, I went back and forth in career paths. However, after my first engineering class in high school, I knew that I wanted to be some type of engineer. I didn’t decide on fire protection until my senior year of high school.”


Gillian: “When I was in grade school, we had career day and my dad volunteered to take part. I thought that he was pretty cool, and growing up, engineering was always in the back of my mind as a career choice. It became apparent that engineering was the right career choice for me after my junior year of high school. I have always felt so accomplished after figuring out something that can frustrate me. In a way, that is what engineering is to me.”


What’s your favorite part of your job?

Sam: “I love the variety in my everyday work since we design and consult on many different types of systems.”


Gillian: “Like Sam, I also enjoy the variety. I can be at the office designing a system and later that same day, I can be at the site evaluating how the system I designed was installed. I think it is really cool seeing your work come to life so to say.”


How would you explain fire protection engineering to a young girl?

Sam: “To a young girl, I would explain fire protection engineering as a way of keeping people safe.”


Gillian: “It is a way to protect people from danger until help can arrive and it is a rewarding field.”

What has been your best experience as an engineer?

Sam: “My best experience as an engineer so far would be working on Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh, PA. The existing standpipe system in the high rise posed quite a few challenges when restoring the fire protection systems after the May 2021 fire. The project was a great learning experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my career.”


Gillian: “As an engineer, I have most enjoyed the people I have met. I love the networking aspect of my job and the connections I get to form with fellow engineers.”


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