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Mentoring the Next Generation of Women Engineers

Next Generation of Women Engineers
Mentoring has long been recognized as one of the most effective ways to encourage personal and professional development of our nation’s youth.

Interacting with and learning from successful adults provides students with perspective and direction on the student’s own potential career paths as well as personal goals. This is particularly important for young people entering careers in the growing fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

This is why the Women in Technology (WiT) program was implemented 18 years ago at BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems sector in Nashua, N.H.

“When I started in this business many years ago there were no women in engineering roles,” recalls Sandi Pelletier, a 38-year employee and one of the founding members of the WiT program. “We recognized a need to get more young women exposed to engineering and technology careers early.”

Thus began a small program geared at providing opportunities for female high school students, with an aptitude in math and science, to explore careers in various engineering disciplines. The program began with only six students from two local schools and has since expanded to include more than a dozen schools and 18 students per year.  The WiT program also exists at ES’ Manassas, Va., site, with students from more than ten local schools participating each year.  To date, the WiT program has provided more than 400 students with the opportunity to explore engineering careers.

The WiT program includes hands-on modules which teach participants about electrical, software, mechanical, and microwave engineering, as well as signal processing. However, perhaps the most important component of the program is the connection to BAE Systems’ mentors who support the students in their pursuit of a technical career.

“The personal mentoring happens naturally throughout the program,” explains Pelletier. “Students are encouraged to ask questions about engineering but also about balancing work and personal life or other questions they have as they begin to think about their future.”

At the end of each program, participants are invited to attend a roundtable discussion that includes a panel of BAE Systems employees in various engineering roles. The panelists answer questions and provide feedback related to their own experiences to help students in their educational and career decisions. 

Faith Mandravelis, a former WiT participant, was hired as an intern at BAE Systems in her senior year of high school and later landed a full-time job at the company as a mechanical technician — she now supports the WiT program as a mentor. Mandravelis noted that the most critical part of the WiT program for her was the relationships she made with her mentors, with whom she still maintains contact.

“As a mentor today, I can really connect with the students and put myself in their place,” she recalls. “I remember how exciting the program was for me and how it made me hopeful for the future.”
The WiT program remains a successful mentoring program run by a group of dedicated BAE Systems volunteers. 

“I enjoy sharing the knowledge I’ve gained over the years with those younger and eager to learn,” explains Stacey Mohr, a WiT mentor and hardware engineer at BAE Systems. “Seeing the students get excited about things that may now seem trivial to those who have been in the industry for a while is inspiring, and brings me back to when I was in their shoes.”