3rd Annual IGNITE Panel Event at Oak Harbor High School

On March 8,2024, the third annual IGNITE Panel Event at Oak Harbor High School in Oak Harbor, WA brought together professionals from diverse STEM and Skilled Trades backgrounds to share their stories with 115 IGNITE Students. With Volunteers from a variety of companies, the event provided insight into various industries and career trajectories. The Volunteers and their respective companies included:

  • Ana Leetch, Architect at Pelletier + Schaar
  • Carly McArdle, Civil Engineer at DCG Watershed
  • Chrissy Shuart, Welder at Rainier Welding Inc
  • Dawna Bennett, General Contractor at DBennett Construction
  • Elizabeth Houser, Cybersecurity DefenseStorm
  • Erin Gilchrist, Electronic Warfare Officer for the U.S. Navy
  • Hannah Goldman, Electrician at Island Electric
  • Hope Wirth, Dentist at Whidbey Dental Associates
  • Kimberly Palacios, Chemical Engineer at Sinclair Oil
  • Laurin Bates, Island Co. Sheriff Department
  • Lilian Buabeng, Mechanical Engineer with the U.S. Navy
  • Martha Rose, Martha Rose Construction
  • Melissa Gehrmann, Civil Engineer for Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command
  • Randi Perry, Superintendent of Public Works for the City of Langley
  • Selina Stanley, Civil Engineer at DCG Watershed
  • Vanessa Villa, Developer Advocate at Pangea

The 16 Panelists, ranging from architects and civil engineers to dentists and electronic warfare officers, captivated IGNITE students with their career anecdotes and advice. Students had the unique opportunity to engage directly with the Panelists in small group discussions, delving deeper into their experiences and personal journeys.

Throughout the event, Panelists tackled questions ranging from the challenges of their professions to the joys they find in their work. From grappling with the intricacies of cybersecurity to the satisfaction of building structures that stand the test of time, each Panelist shared a glimpse into the daily realities of their careers. The casual questions about pets in the office provided lighthearted moments to connect, creating an easy way for students to relate to the accomplished professionals.

The advice offered by the Panelists resonated with the students, emphasizing the importance of open-mindedness, persistence, and the willingness to explore unconventional paths. Students were reassured that traditional four-year colleges are not the only gateway to successful careers and that technical schools offer equally valid routes. The message to embrace new experiences and seek support encouraged the students to boldly pursue their aspirations.

A sincere thank you goes out to each and every one of the dedicated Volunteers who generously shared their time, expertise, and passion with IGNITE Students: Ana Leetch, Carly McArdle, Chrissy Shuart, Dawna Bennett, Elizabeth Houser, Erin Gilchrist, Hannah Goldman, Hope Wirth, Kimberly Palacios, Laurin Bates, Lilian Buabeng, Martha Rose, Melissa Gehrmann, Randi Perry, Selina Stanley, and Vanessa Villa. Additionally, a huge thank you to IGNITE Educators Christy Kellison and Chris Whiteman for their support and guidance in making this event a resounding success.

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:

This event made me feel like I wasn’t alone in a field that I’m interested in and gave me more courage to pursue that interest. Also, learning about so many women in male-dominated fields is just inspiring in itself. 15% of engineers are women; that statistic is really weird to think about. I always thought that there were more women in engineering than that. It really put everything into perspective.” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

It showed me that most of the panelists have felt the same way I have about pursuing a career that is challenging as a woman. I liked learning about their backgrounds and how they came to the career they are in now.” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

“Today introduced me to more careers. It was really nice talking to people who are interested in STEM like I am. I really enjoyed talking to the deputy and asking her my questions. Thank you so much for coming, everyone!” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

I got to meet women in my desired field. I liked how cool everyone was and that there are so many different paths a single career can take.” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

Today’s event inspired me to take risks and to try career paths I wasn’t sure were for me. This also helped me with clarity on what women are already doing in STEM careers. I want to say thank you to all the wonderful volunteers. They truly inspired me to become someone that I thought was out of reach, but with them around I knew it just would be a little challenge rather than impossible. I learned that not everything works out and that you just need to keep pursuing what you think is best for you.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

“I felt a lot more comfortable experimenting and not fully being sure on what exactly I wanted to do. Seeing people find the career I want and being happy made me more excited. I liked hearing about how they found their jobs and where they started from. It made it seem more welcoming and that anyone can find the career they want.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student

“This event has inspired me to keep going although there will be bumps in the road and everybody’s story can and will be different. It totally makes me feel better to go out there and try something STEM-related. My favorite thing I learned was seeing how everybody was supportive and experienced with excellent talking. I loved to ask questions and seeing the career panelists enjoy being there. There were two in particular who felt warm and welcoming, and that was a highlight being able to speak with them.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student

It inspired me by seeing other women like me pursuing something that is difficult for a lot of people, so that makes me hopeful that I can do it too. My favorite thing that I learned was there was a police academy for people 14 and up. I would like to thank all the volunteers for all of the info they have provided!” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

It reminded me that while being a woman in STEM is a challenge, there are things that women go through together and can relate to each other. I learned of a variety of career fields, and even if I make mistakes I can still make my way toward my dreams even if it takes longer. I was inspired by how passionate all of the women were about their jobs. I got insight from other women about what choices I can make to get myself toward specific career fields. Additionally, I learned that there is a large variety of STEM jobs.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

Being in a room filled with other girls and women like me really made for a safe and positive environment. I loved hearing the stories from all the women in the career panel, they were relatable and inspiring. Definitely will look into STEM jobs more now :)” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

“It inspired me to not give up. It also inspired me to keep pushing to achieve my dreams. I learned it could take a while to get there or it could be a surprise and change your whole perspective.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

Seeing so many women who are passionate about their STEM careers was so inspiring and provided role models to look up to. Also, this event showed me how many available careers there are to go both with and without higher education. Today I learned what architectural plans looked like on paper, which was amazing to compare to the pictures of completed houses. I have never been very into architecture previously, but meeting an architect and seeing her work was super fun.” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

“This event inspired me today to not give up on my passion to becoming what I want to do. My favorite thing I learned was to follow my dreams and not give up on what I want to do.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

The event actually opened my eyes as to what I really wanted to do. The woman officer with a wife; It’ll likely let many girls realize that there are women like them in fields like law enforcement.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

“Today’s event made me realize that many STEM careers lack female workers. It also made me realize it’s worthwhile to pursue a job in STEM yourself. I really enjoyed the story about the Sheriff, how she changed for herself, made her life better for herself. She didn’t do it because the job paid good, she did it because it’s what she dreamt of doing. It was very bold.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

“It inspired me after hearing about all these different careers and stuff and how they told us to follow our dreams and do what we want to. It really inspired me in a positive way and I’m so glad I got to experience this and I hope they hold another one of these because I would definitely sign up and do this again. Probably my favorite part was getting to talk to the volunteers and learning about their background stories and how they got involved in these industries and how they said to follow your dreams. I really liked being able to talk and interact with these ladies today and very grateful for the opportunity that I got to be able to meet these wonderful people.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

“There were a lot of different upbringings and opportunities that followed. It was nice to know that you didn’t have to be the same as everyone else to get where you want.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

I loved that for a good amount of the women, this was not their original plan. I thought it was amazing how many of them have a family and a career. I thought that the sustainable housing idea was really interesting. It was fascinating how little she paid for her energy bill.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

After the IGNITE event, I realized how many women pursue STEM careers and how difficult it can be as a female working in these environments. I was inspired by a group of hardworking women that showed not to judge a book by its cover and how important it is to open your mind to new opportunities and never give up on what you believe in. My favorite station to learn things was from the police officer. I was in awe not just of her diligence as a woman in the criminal justice field, but her confidence in her sexuality as well. She had a beautiful story that had my full attention.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

“Today’s event helped inspire me so much in pursuing a STEM career. At first, I wasn’t sure I should but now that I’ve seen other women be successful it makes me confident I can do it as well. My favorite thing that I learned today was seeing how other women went on going about with their career. For example, I got to ask if they did or didn’t go to school. How old they were when they first started. What they were nervous about. How working in a male industry makes them feel. And much more.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

It led me to more possible options in the future I want to pursue. I liked learning about the dentist the most because that’s the field I was most interested in.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

It inspired me to try new things. I was able to learn that most of the speakers did not plan to get a specific job, but ended up loving theirs. It motivated me and made me feel like it was OK to not know what I wanted right now.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

This event inspired me because I got to see all those different people doing stuff they love today. Also hearing their story for how they fell in love with what they do and the hardships they had to overcome to get where they are today. My favorite thing was to learn about all the different ways each of the volunteers got into STEM and it not just being all the same things. Also to see some of the stuff a few of the volunteers brought down and hear them talk about.” – 9th Grade IGNITE Student

The people there really made me feel confident to pursue my goals. They offered opportunities I was unaware of. I loved learning about what each volunteer does, the way one was so passionate about doing everything she can to make her housing not only safe for the environment but also affordable compared to other houses on the market. I found her work very inspiring.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

“It made me feel so much better about not knowing what to pursue after high school yet and that life is unpredictable. Also, that women still have many options in the STEM field and its importance for diversity for those fields and in any career ever. All of the women’s experiences in getting into the fields that they are currently in.” – 11th Grade IGNITE Student

It made me want to pursue a career in STEM and be a female in a male-dominated industry.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

“What inspired was doing things that you love and it’s hard to do it. My favorite thing was learning about everybody that was there.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

After going to the IGNITE event, I got to see that there were a lot of different types of careers in STEM, that offered a lot of different things. Some that I wouldn’t have been able to imagine myself doing until that day, and it made me realize that representation truly does matter, as I was able to believe I could actually achieve some serious careers in STEM. Even through some more unconventional avenues, like going from being a bartender with no college experience into becoming a welder, and from still being able to go after your dreams after waiting years. One of my favorite things I learned about was eco-friendly house building, which was something I knew virtually nothing about prior. You can put plants, especially succulents, on roofs to manage rainwater, or have a driveway with holes in it that allow rainwater to go through them and absorb it in gravel underneath, all to prevent polluted rainwater runoff from harming our oceans.” – 10th Grade IGNITE Student

This event inspired me because it showed that women can go into any career path and find success in it. Though I know that women are capable of everything and anything they put their mind to, it was nice to see a representation of how women succeed in the work fields, seeing how women can take leadership roles. I got to learn about a lot of the lives and upbringing of the individual women and how they found inspiration and motivation. Though it wasn’t something specific that I learned, my favorite thing that I learned was just the way the women found their paths and how it isn’t something that comes naturally immediately and that it takes time to find the right career path for you. It encouraged me to prepare myself for what I want to accomplish but also be open to what could come.” – 12th Grade IGNITE Student

About IGNITE Program Panel Events:

Virtual or In-Person IGNITE Panels empower women in STEM careers to connect directly with students by sharing their academic and professional journeys. IGNITE Students are inspired by hearing stories they can relate to, and Q&A discussions help break down stereotypes that hold them back from engaging in STEM classes and careers.

About IGNITE Worldwide:

IGNITE Worldwide is a 501(c)3 nonprofit STEM education organization that aims to change gender and racial equity in STEM permanently and systematically. We work directly with teachers during the school day to provide programming that promotes gender equity and representation in STEM academics and careers. Through our award-winning program, IGNITE provides engaging, hands-on events that connect students with STEM professionals from industry leaders from around the world. Learn more at www.igniteworldwide.org.

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