Nontraditional College Success

A 2nd Career in Engineering! Women in STEM! with Mel Butcher. Ep. 36

January 20, 2021 Season 2 Episode 16
Nontraditional College Success
A 2nd Career in Engineering! Women in STEM! with Mel Butcher. Ep. 36
Show Notes Transcript

Mel talks about her 2nd Career in Engineering and being a woman in STEM. 

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In today's episode, we have Mel butcher. We will be talking about a second career in engineering empowering women in STEM and content creation. Hi, everyone. I'm Arnold Morales. And this is non traditional, a podcast about succeeding in college and overcoming obstacles that non traditional students face. Together, we will interview recruiters, scholarship committees, and successful graduates. I will also share personal stories, tips and how tos just for you. So stay tuned. Hi, Mel, welcome to non traditional college success. Thank you, Arne. All I'm so happy to be here with you. Thanks for inviting me on. Yeah, thank you. And thank you for introducing me to other people to actually had Becky Mueller on when this episode was like two episodes ago. That was an introduction by you. So thanks a lot for that. Oh, it's my pleasure. Yeah, Becky's Great. Yes, she is. You started out you went to college for language. And then you ended up going back to get a bachelor's and a master's in civil engineering. Can you talk about how this happened? Sure, I'd be happy to talk about that. So I do get questions about that once people realize that I earned two rather divergent degrees. How did that happen? I mean, the shortest way for me to explain it is that in my early years, I had a terrible combination of poor guidance, and lack of self confidence. I grew up in sort of a small town in a sort of rural area. And I just didn't have line of sight to the many different career options that there are in STEM or in business. And I had no idea what I was doing the first time I went to college. And what happened was I studied abroad that had been sort of a dream of mine. And I came back from that with so many language hours that I felt obligated to just finish the degree and get out. So that's pretty much how I ended up with a language degree. And then circumstances would have it where I ended up going to work in a completely different field, I worked in emergency management and response for a number of years. And it was, while I was doing that, that I really gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. And I realized I wanted to go back to school for something that was some combination of of science and math and applied in some way. But to be honest with your Arnauld, I still didn't really understand at that time what engineering meant. What I did was I went on to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook. And I looked for careers that had science and math and also had good career prospects. And that was engineering. And that's how I went back to school for engineering. So when I started engineering, I had never had any kind of calculus. I never had college physics or any of that type of groundwork. So it was really starting from scratch. Yeah, I can totally relate to that. And it's interesting, because I imagine a lot of the listeners of this podcast, non traditional students go through that where they have no idea of what some of these degrees are because they weren't exposed to it. So I have in my story, when I share usually I tell people, I signed up for engineering without even knowing what it was. I spent that whole night after the advisor told me you should do engineering. I said, Okay, I'll do that. In Washington. What is an engineer on YouTube, though? That's how I found out what I what it was. And here we are, both of us have master's degrees in engineering. So So that's cool. Yeah, that's great. Yeah. What advice would you give someone considering to do a switch? And to go into a second career in engineering? Yeah. So I was thinking about this a little bit. And I think my advice would be to be very certain that it will open the doors that you want opened. I think I think what a lot of folks have learned in the last decade or so is that a degree alone does not equal a job. It doesn't equal a happy career path. But certainly engineering is one of the kinds of degrees that opens many more job doors than other degrees. So I just want to add something in case there's any any any listeners who are having this debate on something like one that comes up a lot in my space is should I do environmental science or Environmental Engineering. And my answer will always be environmental engineering or some other engineering discipline that allows you to do environmental work. And the reason is because engineering degrees in the United States are accredited through a bet it's a different accreditation than typical bachelor's degrees. And the reason is because it's associated with professional licensure. So taking that path doesn't mean that you necessarily have to earn licensure. But it does mean your degree carries more weight, and it can open more doors oftentimes than a bachelor's degree in science alone. So So my advice is, make sure you know what you want to do. And that the the avenue avenue that you take, can get you there. And certainly do informational interviews, because people like to help. There's plenty of people out there who are doing interesting, interesting work that would be happy to share with you how they got on their career path. And, you know, any advice that they've got, before I landed on this path, I did informational interviews with some scientists, and some policymakers. And I learned that that was not the path for me for many reasons. And, you know, if I hadn't done that I could have gone down too far of a rabbit hole, and then on another path, that might have been an expensive mistake, if that makes sense. So that's my advice. Yeah, definitely. And education is definitely expensive. So it's really hard to kind of know since the beginning what you want, but it's always good to have kind of a compass and direction. And your advice on environment science versus Environmental Engineering, I totally agree with that. Like it. The thing is, like, a lot of times with like technology degrees also like mechanical engineering, technology, electrical engineering, technology, computer science versus like the actual complete engineering degrees is that you will have some limitations in your career. And that really sucks because in my opinion, the technologies are sometimes even better engineers than the full engineers are just because they learn more hands on and that's what you're going to be doing anyways. And like at least the entry level positions. But they, they always hit this kind of ceiling where they can't go any more unless they have an engineering degree. So I've actually learned a lot of these people end up getting a master's in engineering, which is a good loophole. But at the same time, if since the beginning, you can always do me t job some WT job as an engineer also. So I would definitely add that on. All right, Mel. So you were an engineering student. Now you're an engineer, and you're a woman, there is not that many woman's in school and the engineering workforce. So my question about that is kind of how, because I also notice that you were passionate about supporting women's in their careers, especially in STEM, I started to see that you have some content creation, things like that. Why is that? Why why do you think that's so important to empower other minorities? Oh, gosh, well, I think, I think empowerment of underrepresented minorities in STEM is important until we achieve parity. So for me, that is multifaceted, right? When we talk about diversity that should include that should include gender, and race, certainly, it should also include sexual identity, and disability, and all of these, these things that make us different. And I noticed pretty much immediately when I went back to school for engineering that in all of my engineering courses, and all of the courses that lead to engineering, so the math and the science course, you know, foundational courses that lead to engineering. They were consistently right around the 25% mark, for women, or less. And so there's a there's a disparity. And I mean, there's all kinds of reasons that, that I'd like to see parity in these fields, not the least of which is people who have different experiences, bring good ideas to the table, and they help make the designs that we do as engineers better. So if you think about the designs that civil engineers do for cities and infrastructure, and the the influence that say a mechanic engineer can have on different types of consumer products. These are things that we live with and interact with every day. And if you only have, you know, one narrow profile type of person that that works on those things and works on solving those problems, you won't necessarily end up with the best solution that you could and certainly not not a solution that is inclusive of the the great variety of people that are that are out there. So that's, that's part of it. But then there's other sort of, you know, selfish, if you want to call it that sort of ideas in my head where I want to see women and other underrepresented minorities have access to good career paths. Now, for the most part, engineering is a it's a white collar kind of job. It's decent pay, particularly if you come from blue collar type area where I did, you know, it's a good, it's a good path to go on. So I just like to see parity in access to these types of paths. Yeah, that's awesome. And this, this podcast is specifically targeting non traditional college students. So that's something big that we're proponents. And that's something that I've been really big in, throughout my college years, and as a young professional is making sure we empower minorities and like that diversity of thought is so important. And not just like, a lot of people think when you say diversity, they think of race, but you got like, race, you have gender, you have age, you have different backgrounds where like, different degrees and different types of engineering, have business people have like, all these different people, and then you come up with better answers at the end of the day. And that's what a lot of people don't understand just because they feel uncomfortable kind of thinking about some other idea and accepting someone else's ideas better. But I love diversity. And I'm always going to be pushing for that. Absolutely. I love what you're doing. And I'm I'm glad that you mentioned that there's, there's many facets to it. Yeah, definitely. So this this question, I kind of don't like it. But at the same time, I always want to ask is like, what can men do? Like, what can especially because I have a daughter now. So it's like, what can I do to make sure that I I never make it awkward? Or how can I help the experience a woman in engineering? Oh, yeah, it says it's a tough question. Right. And I feel that there's there's sort of, there's Divergent Paths in the in the discussion. So full disclosure, I'm, I'm not a parent, I know what it's like to grow up, I guess you'd say in a in a very gendered environment. And I can look back on that and reflect and I can also look at research, right. So the last research that I saw showed that girls, young girls tend to lose their, their interest. And more importantly, they lose their confidence in their ability to do things in math and science around middle school age. You know, I think that there's probably many reasons why that happens. But, you know, the, I guess what I would encourage parents to do is to take some time and do some of your own research and read some books about unconscious bias, particularly around how different we treat boys versus girls when they are children. There's just so much that happens unconsciously. And we can't, we can't pause and interrupt those automatic sort of habits and the way that we treat these kids unless we're aware of them. So raising awareness is definitely the first step. Beyond that, I think parents have to decide for themselves, how they how they lead and encourage. You know, one of the other things that's come up and I'd say I experienced this a little bit too is that boys are usually church, and I mean children here, right? So young boys are usually treated as more rough and tumble and what comes with that is the encouragement to be physical, be physical with their surroundings, mess around with tools, play with tools with their dad, build things, play with blocks play with Legos, and girls are not necessarily pushed to do that. They're often put To play with other things that are pink and frilly and girly, and they're fed these stories around these princesses that need to be rescued. And so there's there's all kinds of media to that I think parents could pay attention to, and, and interrupt. The other part of your question, though, is is really more around adults, right? What can men do with their, to help their their peers and be supportive. And there's just so many things, and I just want to list a few of them here right now. So men can help by increasing the visibility and the number of women leaders. So that means not just hiring women, like like, that's the very beginning, right? You You hired for diversity. But what really has to happen is leaders and companies have to do the work to ensure that women and other underrepresented minorities are getting the support that they need to advance. That could be that could be targeted mentorship, that could be targeted sponsorship, that it could look like a lot of different things. But it's important to recognize that it's not just about the hiring process. And then with sponsorship, I want to mention that there's some some research that they talked about, on a HBr Women at Work podcast, that showed that typically men, regardless of their status, so even if they're younger, and less experienced, men are typically more effective sponsors than women. So what that indicates is that we need men to step in and choose to sponsor women. So that means, you know, identifying talent, and pushing them not necessarily when they're in the room, but pushing them to other leadership, for advancement opportunities for stretch opportunities for a different additional training, you know, whatever that might look like. So if anybody's interested in that, I'll share a link with you, I'll send that over to you after our call. And then there just a couple other things. So another great thing men can do to be supportive of women is to take paternity leave, and take advantage of alternative sort of work life strategies. So flex work is a really good example. It's important for companies to see their male employees taking advantage of those types of benefits, and encouraging their colleagues, certainly their subordinates to do so as well, because we need to interrupt the pattern of women taking a hit on their career progress, because they've taken maternity leave. And it will help if men take paternity leave, and basically normalize it. And then the last thing that I'll mention here is we would love to see more men advocating for the establishment of diversity, equity, and inclusion, accountability metrics to leadership. So not just setting loose goals of we'll try to hire more diversely. But putting down some some concrete accountability metrics that the leadership is committed to, it helps no matter what level you're at, if you support that within the company that you work for. You hit on some great points. And it's really interesting because I'm part of an employee resource group, a Latino, one Hispanic. So I'm trying to do all these initiatives to push Hispanics in leadership roles and things like that. And, and there's also a woman's group, and we kind of were trying to do the same thing. So it's interesting to to see how we kind of tried to say the same thing, how we can help each other. It's been really interesting, like you hit on talking about like paternity leave. Did you see my posts at all about me growing up with sexist mentality? No, LinkedIn. Okay, so Well, that's a plug for my LinkedIn in case you don't follow me on LinkedIn, I put some great content out there. So make sure you follow me on LinkedIn. Also, I'll have Mel's LinkedIn on the description of this episode. But I recently put an episode about me taking family leave like not just a paternity leave, but the actual like FMLA to care for my daughter after her surgery instead of my wife, even though I was raised sexist, and that's not what everyone around me He believes in. So it kind of is like, I'm the one that makes more money in the house, I'm the one that's working on my wife's a student. So it's it didn't make financially doesn't make that much sense for me to take the hit. And like, my parents wouldn't understand that growing up, if I went to the kitchen, my dad would tell me like, hey are to leave the kitchen that's for that's for the the females in the house, and like all this negative mindset. And so I took the family leave, and I'm caring for the bit for our baby. For six weeks, I'm doing the cooking, I'm doing the cleaning, which we usually do like half and half. But right now I'm doing everything. Everything that according to my Hispanic parents is the role of the woman in the house. And the only reason why I'm doing is because overall, it's better for both of us at the long term. It's better for my wife to, to graduate on time and not have to graduate a semester or two later. And me just take six weeks. So like that's one of the things that that that I've been doing. But it's like, oh my god, it's so much work to take care of a baby. But but that's a totally other story, because we still have to take care of her either way. But I totally agree with that. And I have noticed some people kind of look at it kind of weird that I am doing that. So I never thought about that that way. But that's definitely interesting. Another thing that you talked about is like, kind of with parenting. My wife loves pink, and I love blue. So it's really interesting. And every time we buy our daughter's favorite color apparently is orange, she's one and a half, but she loves orange. And since I'm an engineer, we tried to buy a lot of engineering related toys. It's so hard to find toys for girls that are engineering related, by the way. And it's everything like it's either like boyish or it's blue. Nothing's orange to her color. And nothing's pink, my wife's favorite color. So it is really interesting. But we cannot envision that. I just think that that's such an an interesting thing that is ingrained in our minds, that really has no meaning, like associating a color with a boy and another color for a girl. And how, how we then translate that to like, the toys that they play with. Right? So I just think it's so bizarre if we step back and look at it that a toy for a child could be considered, you know, okay, for one and not the other. Did you ever see there was this great video that I think the BBC did it, I can look it up and find it where they basically dressed up babies in traditionally male or traditionally female like baby clothes and then gave them to these people to babysit for however long. And these people were recorded on video and they immediately had the the girl baby, they would hand her the doll, they would hand her like the girly toy. And they would hand who they thought was a boy a truck or whatever. And then basically, they they stopped and they said, Okay, this baby that we were having you watch for the last hour is not really a boy. It's actually a girl. And then they're kind of taken aback at like, Oh, I thought she enjoyed this toy. But she is that he and it kind of it just like really poignantly illustrates how crazy it is that we push these notions literally from birth. Yeah, even before birth on the on the party, the renewal parties. Oh, yeah, you're absolutely right. Yeah, it's definitely interesting. I actually did a post about that too. And though, and at the end, I was like, oh, and then I realized that blue is also can also be used as a girl color. But like, you end up pictures in the toys and everything. There's always boys. But yeah, I'm trying to do my best to find STEM related. The thing is like, then I'm pushing stem to motion on my daughter. So if she doesn't want to do stem that it's like, but whatever. And then I it's hard for me to ask that question like, what can men do to help females in the workforce? Because it does sound like sometimes like, oh, the prince trying to save the princess? And it's and it's like, No, how can how do we work together? And I actually there was this this panel one day, and I asked that question, kind of like how can we start stop thinking about okay, the feminist helping the woman and men can't be the feminist also, what how can we work together instead of being separate on making sure that everyone is equal? This is so that's always it's hard to ask that question without sounding like the prince trying to save the princess. And it's just but I am happy though, that I am seeing more female stem role models and more of these Disney movies or that are switching that mindset where it isn't anymore, just a male saving the female. So that's exciting for my daughter and 20 years when she's a grown up to see. Right. All right, and last but not least Mel content creation. So I know you you've been doing some content share with us, what are you doing and where we can find it? Oh, well, thank you so much for asking are at all. So the latest thing I've been working on is I, I'm working as a host inside a network called a career that soars. And the woman that founded it, her name is Susan colon to now. And I originally came across Susan from her TED talk, she gave a TED Talk directed at career women. That's called the career advice you probably didn't get. And so I ended up reaching out to her and cultivating a relationship. And now I'm a host inside this space. And as you can probably guess, it's a it's a space for ambitious career women that are looking for support as they climb the ladder. So it's meant for women who are working for a public or private organization, not entrepreneurs, but but women who are in an organization and working their way up and are looking to develop their their strategic acumen to do that to to advance. And so one of the things that I do within there, besides general content creation is I produce their podcast. So the podcast is called lead to soar. And we produce it as a as a premium benefit to the paid members. But there are partial episodes available publicly. And it's on all of the major platforms, iTunes, Google, Spotify, etc. And it can also be accessed on the web via lead to So folks can find the podcast at lead to Or you can find me and find the link to that on my website at Mel Great. And also, if you can just send me the link and I'll put on descriptions of this episode. That way. It's easier for the listeners out there that want to learn more about your podcast or anything to find it. Definitely. Yeah, Mel, thank you so much for being on my on my episode today. I hope we keep on in touch and we keep on working together. Yeah, definitely. You're doing great work. Arnold, thank you so much for having me on. Yeah, definitely. It's a pleasure. Thank you for listening to this episode from non traditional. We will have new episodes every Wednesday. So make sure you subscribe. Thank you