Virtual Panel with Corteva Agriscience

On March 3, 2022, IGNITE Worldwide students joined a panel of womxn scientists from Corteva Agriscience! The panel explored the numerous advantages of a STEM career, such as amazing pay, benefits, and superb job satisfaction, and also emphasized that STEM careers are available to anyone with a healthy mindset and confidence.

Facilitator Annabelle Broussard of the Corteva Manufacturing Engineer Co-op shared that women and nonbinary students are greatly underrepresented in technical careers. This is a key shortcoming because technology is used by people of all demographics and should suit all of their needs. Annabelle also introduced Tech Host Martin Montgomery, Senior High Voltage Technologist

After this introduction, the Panelists shared their life stories as well as personal advice for the students.

Catalina Murillo, Production Engineer, described her dilemma that she was encouraged to be an engineer but was initially bad at math. She worked extremely hard to improve her math grades and eventually realized her goal of working at an engineering job. She views her role as providing an adventure every day. She advised the students to not be afraid of asking for help.

Ivonne Ferrer Lassala, Analytical Leader, grew up in Puerto Rico and went to Space Camp as a young child. She first worked with Pepsi during graduate school. She got a PhD and later joined Corteva Agriscience. She likens working at Corteva to “CSI for plants,” and enjoys producing plants that are most appealing to the customer.

Theresa Williams, Production Leader, manages the development of Corteva’s products. She emphasized that women were capable of “anything, and finding successful lives in STEM fields.” She was first interested in biology, but had an excellent math and chemistry teacher in high school, so with her dad’s encouragement she studied chemical engineering at Iowa State. She joined Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) as a support network and strongly recommends that the girls find like-minded social networks to support them. She loves that she gets to help customers have “high-quality, safe food.”

Jessica Zane, Analytical Specialist, describes her experience at an under-resourced school and in a working-class family. Despite a lack of equitable educational access, she was drawn into science by an interest in animals. Chemistry allowed her to unleash her artistic side, and she pursued difficult chemistry and biology classes in college. She told the girls not to give up if they got poor grades at first. Finally, she ended on the optimistic note that STEM careers are becoming more and more open to women.

After their introductions, the students had an opportunity to pose questions to the panelists.

How many girls were in your college classes? Theresa shared that her biochemistry class was about half female, as was chemical engineering at Iowa state. Ivonne only had about three women in her graduate program of almost 100.

How do you keep going if you get a bad grade? If you didn’t work hard, perhaps try to study more. However, if you worked really hard, you can talk to your professor, ask for help, and push ahead.

Are study groups useful? Yes, you should use one if at all possible. YouTube lectures are also incredibly useful for this purpose.

What’s the toughest thing you overcame? Ivonne described not being accepted to a graduate school initially. She worked and then came back to a PhD program, and told students to take advantage of opportunities when they see them. It’s not bad to be “bossy” and fight for what you want. Overcoming failures without being doubtful of your intelligence and worth is also useful. Know your worth and do not let hurtful or sexist people discourage or derail your goals.

What are good college opportunities for an aspiring engineer? Intern at a doctor’s office, join the science club, or shadow an engineer. Always be mindful of how your passion aligns with these internships/jobs/activities. Even if you don’t get into the top 20 engineering schools you can still have the opportunity to do well and be a successful engineer.

What’s the most important step to reach the position you’re in now? Do really well where you are now and it can open the doors for the future. Passion is the key—be happy at your job and you can work incredibly hard. Be confident in your worth and don’t be afraid to change companies or even fields.

Lightning round—what do you wish you had known at the students’ age?

  • Ivonne: Coding is cool—she would have learned it sooner!
  • Jessica: Art and drama actually help you in engineering careers—creativity is key.
  • Catalina: “I really was smart enough to excel in STEM.”
  • Theresa: Being a nerd is not only OK, it’s actually awesome and cool!

IGNITE Worldwide would like to thank Facilitator Annabelle Broussard and Tech Host Martin Montgomery for moderating this event, as well as Panelists Theresa Williams, Catalina Murillo, Ivonne Ferrer Lassala, and Jessica Zane for sharing their experiences. We would also like to thank volunteers Naomi Heilman and Lydia Noyes for supporting this event, and IGNITE Blogger Sebastian Rodionov for recording the inspiration!

After attending this event:

100%

of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class

75%

of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities

85%

of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM

90%

of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

“I am so thankful for the volunteers from today because their words of encouragement helped me solve my self-conflict around STEM. Previously, I didn’t think that I could use the resources I have around me to overcome the stigma around being a woman in STEM, especially in a Hispanic household. Their uplifting advice really helped me.” – 9th grade

“I would like to share my gratitude for you volunteers for coming out and sharing a lot. I must admit I was very nervous for this meeting but seeing you all be confident and outgoing inspires me just a bit.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event inspired me because it was giving me faith in a career I want to pursue. I’m still quite unsure on what career I want to pursue but knowing that I should try my best and believe in myself helps me a lot.” – 9th grade

“It inspired us to keep going and to pursue a career in STEM.” – High school

“Today’s event inspires me to continue my path into STEM. This further pushes me into the STEM pathway.” – 9th grade

“The event helped me get more information about science and agriculture.” – 10th grade

“It inspired me to keep trying. They had really good advice.” – 9th grade

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