Symposium Offers Women Guidance, Resources For Careers In Science

By Kent Jackson Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) During the "Women in Science Symposium" female mentors shared with the young women what inspired them to pursue careers in STEM fields, who helped them and HOW they reached their goals.


Here's a partial list of jobs for women mentioned at the Women in Science Symposium on Tuesday:

Satellite developer, helicopter mechanic, welder, bridge builder, bridge destroyer.

"This generation is being encouraged to look at careers that used to be male jobs," said Sheryl Charbonneau of ResCare, which offers high-school equivalency and career training at PA CareerLink in Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre.

Some 200 young women from ResCare, Hazleton Area, Crestwood, Weatherly Area and Immanuel Christian schools and Keystone Job Corps Center came to the symposium to listen to women who have built careers that require knowledge of the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The mentors told the young women what inspired them, who helped them and how they reached their goals.

During the day, the students also heard advice on networking, job shadowing and education that can help them find a profession that they enjoy and start careers.

"Hopefully this will help you make a decision," said the symposium's creator, Cathy Colombo of Greater Hazleton Partners in Education. She told students to keep an open mind as they talked with each other and women from colleges and local businesses who sat at tables throughout the main ballroom at Premier Catering and Events at Genetti's Ballrooms.

Alyssa Heister, a junior at Weatherly Area High School, said she is influenced by the women in her life: her sisters and her mother.

"All of them, they never cared what anyone else thought and always did what they wanted to do regardless of who said what. I think if they can do that, I can do that," said Heister, who wants to study biochemistry. "And if I can do that, I want to inspire other people to do that."

Audrey Cunfer spent a career as a nurse and now inspires others as a nursing instructor at Misericordia University.

"Seeing success in somebody I had a hand in teaching really makes me feel great," said Cunfer, who joined a panel discussion with three other women who have excelled in their careers.

Kathleen Robbins said when she was in high school, didn't know about careers in food technology, a subject she studied in college before helping to develop Little Bites at Entenmann's Bakery, a division of Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Traveling the world to launch the rollout of Little Bites in more than 30 countries has been one of her favorite work experiences. Now she draws on her experience to help others develop new products and bring them to market as senior director of research and development, a post to which Bimbo wouldn't have promoted her if she hadn't returned to college to earn a master's degree in business administration.

Robbins was the first woman supervisor hired at her company, but it's easier for other women now to follow her path.

"It's changed dramatically. Our company is into diversity and inclusion," she said, "... I think the world has changed quite a bit." When talking about balancing work and home life, an issue that Robbins said will never go away, she said her children told her they loved her job and were proud of her.

"That's all I needed," Robbins said.

None of the students asked questions about sexual harassment in the workplace or disparity between pay for women and men to Robbins, Cunfer or the other panelists, Patrice Cusatis or SuAnn Hoffman.

Cusatis, an analytical chemist, said she always "enjoyed looking at charts and graphs" and was happy keeping to herself inside a laboratory.

But when her team developed a process for checking quality of additives to fuel before it reaches gas stations, her workplace expanded.

Cusatis traveled to Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast, where she trained men who worked in the plants to set up and run her equipment.

At one stop, she heard the men whispering and realized that they didn't have any women co-workers or a women's bathroom, so they hung a sign that said "Occupied" or "Unoccupied" on their bathroom.

"I just sort of took it in stride and laughed a lot," said Cusatis, who felt a sense of accomplishment after teaching diverse coworkers. Now she enjoys teamwork within a laboratory group that she oversees.

Hoffman, meanwhile, said she grew up in the era just before cellphones, but as soon as her parents got the internet, she built a website and decided to become a computer programmer.

Before becoming chief technology officer at Sundance Vacations, Hoffman spent 15 years for Lockheed Martin, a defense contractor, where she worked on satellites that gathered intelligence.

"Helping to keep our armed forces safe was something I take a lot of pride in," Hoffman said.

Women in the military, Erin Roe and Jordan Bannister, said the Pennsylvania Army National Guard trains recruits to be engineers who build and explode bridges as well as carpenters, medical workers, diesel technicians or helicopter mechanics.

Melinda Heckman said Penn College of Technology, where she is an admissions counselor, also trains helicopter mechanics. The campus has labs for example in aviation, robotics and dental hygiene and offers two- and four-year degrees aimed at specific careers.

For example, when a student said she was interested in psychology, Heckman told her about occupational rehabilitation, a career that uses psychology to help people rebound after injury.

Chassidy Olivenca said Keystone Job Corps Center, where she studies security training, will let her continue live at the center and pay her tuition if she enrolls at Luzerne County Community College, where she is interested in studying law enforcement.

She wants to be an FBI agent, but expects to start working with a municipal police force and hopes to network her way to the bureau.

Perrise Saluhdin said the School To Employment Program that she directs for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is a co-op through which students attend high school in the morning and earn $12 an hour in the afternoon by working in jobs such as welding and diesel mechanics.

"A lot of females are doing that. Our secretary is pushing for more women to think outside the box," Saluhdin said.

Brooke Weiss, a Crestwood junior who wants to study environmental science in college, got a line on a summer job at the symposium. The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps will hire students to repair state parks but also offers nature classes during the summer.

Jocelyn Sterenchock spoke about curves in her career path. She initially wanted to teach history but switched to hospitality management. The only reason that she now advises entrepreneurs who are trying to start businesses through the CAN BE Innovation Center is because she volunteered for four years with Krista Schneider of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress and returned to school for a business degree.

"This is a job I never knew I always wanted," she said.

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