Amazon Women in Engineering “Build a Better House” Workshop with Cascade Middle School

On May 25, 2023, Cascade Middle School in Highline Public Schools hosted an IGNITE Workshop with Amazon Women in Engineering that inspired them to get creative and “build a better house”!

IGNITE Educator Nadia Counter opened the event by sharing some background about STEM and why STEM careers are great options to consider because there are tons of different opportunities, STEM jobs pay well, and they impact people all over the world. Students were surprised to learn that only about 25% of people in computing fields are women!

Next, students met the volunteers, who all work in different engineering roles at Amazon. Liisa Hammer, Sr. Lead Ergonomist, gave a brief introduction to engineering and its applications at Amazon, and then Ann Rieser, Sr Program Manager, Learning and Development at Amazon Prime Air, introduced the activity: Five groups of students were tasked to work together to build a house for a unique environment with a specific set of materials and within tight time constraints—similar challenges an engineer might face!

The students were excited to dive in and get creative with their Amazon engineering mentors, and the results were amazing! The final products included an igloo made of marshmallows for a frozen tundra environment, a cloth yurt on the beach, a jungle hut built from bamboo straws and fern, a traditional suburban stick and cardboard home, and a log cabin. The students particularly enjoyed brainstorming ways to decorate and personalize their creations. Along the way, they learned about persistence, collaboration, and working under stressors such as time constraints, which are all important skills in engineering!

After the activity and some time to show off their houses, the groups came back together for a panel and Q&A discussion.

Chelsea Olson is an Electrical Engineer who hopes to be an astronaut someday! At Amazon, she designs and builds circuit boards for Amazon Go stores. Outside of work, she is involved with the Museum of Flight, is working on getting her private pilot license, and has fostered more than 30 animals for the Seattle Humane Society!

Jess Secinaro is an Engineer focused on human-centered design, making systems as usable and useful as possible for their users. She loves hiking, camping, and exploring the outdoors!

Ann Rieser, Sr. Program Manager, Learning and Development at Amazon Prime Air, loved math and physics in school, which led her to pursue engineering and math in college. She started her career as a Software Engineer creating software programs and user interfaces and really enjoyed problem-solving and designing new solutions. Because she also enjoys helping others learn new skills, Ann’s role now is focused on developing training solutions. 

After hearing from the panelists, students asked a lot of great questions, including:

  • If you had a daughter, would you encourage them to pursue a career in STEM? 
  • What are the best and most challenging parts of your job? 
  • Do you think your career in STEM supports a healthy lifestyle? 
  • What classes should I take in college if I want to follow your career path? 
  • Are there many women who work in your career?

Key takeaways were that STEM is creative and versatile and a great way to afford a better lifestyle, and not to let stereotypes, negativity, or naysayers hold you back from what you want!

The workshop was a wonderful experience all around! The students really enjoyed the hands-on activities, small groups, and meaningful panel discussions. The volunteers loved connecting with so many talented students who are excited about building things—which is what engineering is all about!

Thank you to the Amazon Women in Engineering volunteers for making this event possible: Ann Rieser, Liisa Hammer, Svetlana Anikeeva, Jess Secinaro, Chelsea Olson, and Emily Orlock. Thank you also to IGNITE Educator Nadia Counter for hosting and the Cascade Middle School students for being so attentive, appreciative, and enthusiastic!

After attending this event:


of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class


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

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

The event was interesting, fun, and creative.” – 8th grade

The event made me feel that there’s a lot of wonderful and amazing women out there pursing STEM careers. The big takeaways today were that we got to build stuff and thank you for bringing stuff for us to build!” – 8th grade

Today I learned that even if you dont get it the first time, theres always another try. My big takeaways today were the volunteers at my table because they really helped us out and I appreciate them for that.” – 7th grade

The event inspired me to try out STEM in the future. I now know that Amazon is a place that I can try out STEM.” – 8th grade

It was inspiring for me to learn more about STEM and that as a woman, I can become a future engineer. I am so thankful for the women who inspired me today.” – 8th grade

The event inspired me to be an engineer as a woman in the future. Thank you for the help with the ideas that helped us build the house.” – 8th grade

“It inspired me to take my time and to stick to things I would like to do when I’m older. This event has taught me how to build and to work together! Thank you for visiting our school and teaching us about STEM, we all truly appreciate it.” – 7th grade

Today inspired me by helping me learn more about STEM. Thank you!” – 8th grade

“The event inspired me because they helped me try again even if nothing worked out. They helped me understand that I could do better and to think positively not negatively. Thank you for attending our school to teach us more about STEM.” – 7th grade

This event was a way to show my creativity and what I like to do. It was great and so positive.” – 8th grade

“The event inspired me because I enjoyed working with others and building things. I think that seeing people enjoy their work is very motivating. My big takeaway is that you shouldn’t listen to people that are hating on you and that you shouldn’t listen to stereotypes.” – 8th grade

Today inspired me to want to pursue STEM. I learned the ratio of women in STEM needs improvement and there’s a percentage of 25% of women at the volunteers’ jobs.” – 7th grade

Today I got experience and learned that it’s important to keep trying, even if people say you can’t do something. I also learned about problem-solving and to not listen to others’ negative thoughts. I also learned to pursue or follow your dreams.” – 7th grade

Today’s event made me more hopeful because the speakers talked about what their struggles were. Building the house made me realize that I really like engineering. One big takeaway I have from this event was that I want to be in a STEM career and that I like building houses. It was really fun today. Thank you volunteers.” – 7th grade

“I liked it, and the volunteers inspired me for my future career.” – 8th grade

“This experience inspired me because I learned I can be more creative and to not listen to sterotypes.” – 8th grade

Everyone seemed nice and fun. We got stickers!” – 7th grade

“I got inspired by seeing how different everyone’s houses were. I also enjoyed working with my friends while under stress. I liked hearing their stories and how different their experiences are.” – 8th grade

I learned to think more and to join STEM to learn more and to not listen to stereotypes. I also learned about building, which was a big takeaway.” – 8th grade

“Today’s event inspired me by showing me how fun it is working in a STEM career. This inspired me to tell my friends about thinking about a STEM career. It seemed like the volunteers loved their job! I love how more girls are being inspired to pursue their career in STEM. Thank you to our volunteer for being super nice and welcoming. It was really fun!” – 7th grade