As March celebrates International Women’s Day as well as Women’s History Month, we want to spotlight a woman who is making a difference! We sat down with Laura Steffek, a High-Tech High Heels member and director of new product development for Texas Instruments’ Sensing business, to chat about how she is working to encourage more girls to pursue careers in STEM professions.
HTHH: How did you become involved in HTHH?
I’ve always been passionate about encouraging girls to choose STEM careers. Before moving to Dallas, I was involved in speaking to school groups and Girl Scout troops about STEM. When my family and I moved to Dallas ten years ago, I looked for new ways to continue that involvement, and when I learned about HTHH I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it! I’ve been a HTHH volunteer since 2008 and a board member since 2011.
HTHH: What do you believe is HTHH’s greatest impact?
A: One the programs we have funded is gender equity training for high school math and science teachers. When this program was created, our expectation was that teachers would become more effective at teaching girls. What surprised us is that after teachers have gone through this training, the AP scores go up not only for the girls, but also for the boys! All students benefit when teachers have this training.
HTHH: What is one thing you want people to know about HTHH?
A: We are an all-volunteer organization. We are grateful for the support of our fantastic volunteers and for our generous donors.
HTHH: Can you share a memory or story about HTHH that stands out to you?
A: My favorite story is about a young woman named Maria, who participated in the first Physics Camp. She spoke at a HTHH event a few years ago, and she told us her story. She had a large, extended family in Dallas, and none of them attended college. Her teacher encouraged her to attend Physics Camp, so she did. Every day when she left home to go to camp, her mother asked her, “Why are you doing this? Your cousins don’t do this.” Maria told us that without the encouragement of her high school teacher and the physics camp instructors, she never would have gone on to college. But she did go to college, and she graduated with a degree in electrical engineering technology and received a job in a lab in Dallas. The programs that HTHH funds have the power to change lives.
HTHH: What are the greatest obstacles you have seen women face in STEM?
A: When I was a brand-new electrical engineer back in the late 80s, I felt that I had to prove myself twice, once because I was a new engineer, and once because I am a woman. Many people seemed skeptical that a woman could be a good engineer. There’s been progress made, but still women earn less than 20% of the engineering degrees awarded in this country.
My father is a retired engineer, and he was my best source of encouragement when I decided I wanted to become an engineer. For the first ten years of my career, every other female engineer I met told me her father also was an engineer. I think that speaks volumes about how difficult it can be for a woman to choose a STEM career. My hope for HTHH is that our programs provide the support and encouragement that young girls need today, so they can be successful in STEM even if they don’t have a parent who works in STEM.
HTHH: What makes you passionate about STEM?
A: I love solving problems and learning new things, and that’s what engineers get to do all the time.
HTHH: What advice would you share with girls as they learn about STEM?
A: Have fun! Be curious. Experiment. Try new things, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Making mistakes, and trying again until you find a solution, is a great way to learn.