Superheroes aren’t found only in newspaper offices and underground bat caves. There are also more than a few in STEM fields.
What does it take to be a superhero in science, technology, engineering or math?
Kristy Clark, chief engineer for Vencore, Renee Wynn, chief information officer at NASA, and Ted Davies, CEO of Altamira, addressed that and other questions during a panel discussion moderated by Ed Swallow of The Aerospace Corp. at the fifth annual K-12 STEM Symposium.
The April 14 event drew more than 4,000 attendees at Nysmith School for the Gifted, where students and parents had hours of opportunities to interact with STEM leaders from government, academic, nonprofit and corporate organizations.
Clark’s STEM journey began when she was about 5 years old and began experimenting with the Commodore 64, a popular home computer of the 1980s.
“That was my first computer, and my parents were very supportive in getting that for me and allowing me to play and learn,” she said.
By middle school, she enrolled in a summer engineering program at Virginia State University geared to minorities. Soon, she was set on becoming an engineer.
Davies came to his career more traditionally.
“I was probably a regular young boy, a very tactile learner,” he said. “I had to build things and take them apart, and I loved to construct everything from three-story tree forts to roads in the woods where we could ride our bikes.”
Physics and math were natural interests as he grew older. In college, he enrolled in several technology courses while working toward his business degree, then went on to work with satellite communications programs and fighter aircraft for the Navy and soon became interested in how technology can advance government missions.
Wynn’s interest in math began early on, and her career strengths have included the ability to bring together a team to work toward a common interest. Through her work with NASA, she has been part of a team that helped save an astronaut who was in danger of drowning from a protective suit that began filling with water.
Before coming to NASA in 2015, Wynn worked at the Environmental Protection Agency more than 25 years. She holds a bachelor of arts in economics from DePauw University, Indiana.
“Don’t ask me to program a server, but you can certainly ask me to bring together a diverse team to make great things happen,” she said.
The types of jobs available to those with strong STEM backgrounds are virtually endless. Some tap into skills that aren’t strictly STEM-focused, such as art, leadership and communication. For example, a sunshield used in space relied on principles of origami for its design.
“It really comes down to loving what you do,” said Clark, whose work supports the defense and intelligence communities.
The Albert Einstein quote, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious,” applies just as much today, Davies said.
“I would encourage everybody who thinks about this career to be (passionately curious) and to follow what you really want to accomplish to change in the world,” he said.