By Anna Marie Lux
The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Tech Savvy 2020″ is a daylong gathering to give girls the opportunity to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
When Abbey Donahue decided to pursue a career as a nuclear engineer, her mother encouraged her.
“She was incredibly supportive in trying something that was unconventional,” Donahue said.
Donahue’s mom was a trailblazer in the 1980s when she took classes in information technology and did well in the male-dominated field.
“She knew the importance of having a lifetime of learning and not being complacent and of trying new things,” Donahue said.
Today, the 33-year-old Donahue is an engineering manager at SHINE Medical Technologies in Janesville.
She considers herself fortunate to have had amazing women, including her college sorority sisters, support her as she built her career.
On Saturday, March 14, Donahue will share her passion for her work with more than 70 girls in sixth through ninth grades.
She is the keynote speaker at a daylong gathering called Tech Savvy 2020. The event will give girls opportunities to learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
“I want to open their eyes to possibilities they didn’t even know existed,” Donahue said.
Professional women in STEM fields will lead 12 hands-on workshops on such diverse topics as extracting DNA, building computer circuits, engineering a cellphone stand, programming robots, analyzing light with spectrometers and identifying antibiotic-producing bacteria.
Chapters of the American Association of University Women, in Janesville and Fort Atkinson, and UW-Whitewater’s Office of Science Outreach are organizing the event, which will be held on the UW-W campus.
The national AAUW designed Tech Savvy several years ago.
“Now, AAUW branches use those materials to organize local Tech Savvy events,” said Pat Phillips, co-president of the Janesville organization.
Girls have signed up from Janesville, nearby communities and from as far away as Milwaukee.
More than half are attending with parents or other adults.
“Parents have a huge impact on the courses students sign up for in high school,” Phillips said. “Several of these courses, such as advanced math, physics and computer science, are gateway courses to many of these exciting STEM careers.”
Parents will be able to learn about opportunities for women in STEM careers and how to encourage their daughters as they plan for education beyond high school, Phillips said.
Donahue never considered engineering as a dream job until she had a teacher who had retired from Boeing.
“That was my first introduction to engineering,” she recalled. “The application of physics and math was appealing to me.”
As a junior in high school, she began taking courses for an engineering track in college.
At Purdue University, she learned about nuclear engineering and how it is used for medical application.
“It sounded hard, but it was going to be worth the challenge,” Donahue said.
While attending school, she worked every other semester at Dominion Energy of Virginia.
“I started in the nuclear-core design group, where you determine the way and what type of nuclear fuel goes into a reactor,” Donahue said.
She remembers the first time she saw the North Anna Power Station, which generates nuclear energy.
“Seeing the scale of the building, the heavy machinery and the major components, I fell in love with it,” Donahue said. “It was career-affirming. This was exactly what I wanted to do.”
She earned a Bachelor of Science in nuclear engineering from Purdue and a Master of Science in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee.
After college, she worked for another nuclear energy company for almost eight years.
She said there are engineering challenges every day to maintain nuclear plants and to keep operations safe.
“I was proud to be part of an industry providing clean electricity,” Donahue said.
Eventually, she was attracted to the cutting-edge technology at SHINE Medical Technologies and has worked there for more than three years.
She and her group are responsible for the civil and structural design of the building where SHINE will produce medical isotopes, which are vital in early diagnosis of heart disease.
Civil design includes the way the ground slopes and appropriate controls for stormwater. Structural design includes everything from the foundation to the trusses.
She believes it is important for girls to hear her story because it is “another affirmation of what they can do,” Donahue said. “Their opportunities are endless. Two of the things they will get out of choosing a STEM career is the ability to think critically and to solve problems. Those two skills alone will allow them to make the future a better place, not just for them, but for their communities.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email email@example.com.
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