When Breakthrough high school senior Marilyn M. visited GMU Geotechnical, a civil engineering firm in Rancho Santa Margarita, she discovered the endless opportunities that a career in STEM holds. Breakthrough College Mentor Greg Silver is the president of GMU Geotechnical and offered to show Marilyn around his workplace. During the visit, Marilyn and her mentor explored the facility and learned about the processes that GMU oversees. Mr. Silver also connected Marilyn with a young female engineer who was able to provide unique insight into the career. As Mr. Silver reflected: “I think she related to Marilyn in a way that I could not and really enhanced the experience.” By the end of the visit, there was no doubt that Marilyn aspires to a future in STEM.
As the leader of a prominent engineering firm, Mr. Silver is tasked with guiding young professionals to success. When students visit, Mr. Silver’s primary aim is for them to get a real feel for the profession. “We try to get students to visualize themselves working at our firm and walk them through typical job assignments,” he said. “The more they are exposed to different types of jobs, the better idea they are going to have with regard to what their career should be.” Mr. Silver expresses a hope that is aligned with Breakthrough’s mission for students to persist through college, gain exposure to a wide variety of professions, and ultimately find careers that inspire and drive them. One of the central questions that motivates our work is how we can support students whose backgrounds are underrepresented in particular fields. Most critically, we understand that the support of mentors and industry professionals can dramatically change a student’s trajectory.
One such professional is Stacy Nicholas, a local electrical engineer and Breakthrough advisory board member. In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to foster diversity in STEM—in particular, to bring more women into the field. Weighing in on this topic, Ms. Nicholas offered advice to young women who are interested in STEM:
Start early, and stick with it. The earlier you start on that path, the better. There is a lot to learn! Also, seek support – it is out there. There are so many great organizations that will provide the encouragement, mentoring, and guidance that you need. But go into it knowing that STEM fields are hard. It does take a lot of work and persistence. But you ARE capable of doing it! You are not alone if you feel lost, or in over your head. Don’t give up – seek support. There are people just like you who have overcome all the odds, and have succeeded! STEM fields will get you places that no other majors will. You can do anything with a STEM major – be an engineer or scientist, go to med school, law school, business school, work in finance – anything. But you will have a huge advantage. You will feel so confident in all that you do, because you will have mastered the art of critical thinking and problem solving. You will emerge a leader and a role model to others.
Many thanks to Ms. Nicholas and Mr. Silver for engaging in our community and helping students cultivate futures in STEM. As a part of our commitment to support students along this pathway, we are launching our Entrepreneurship and Innovation Pilot for middle school students to explore computer science and web development. If you are connected to any professional opportunities in STEM (particularly companies that would be looking to hire interns), please reach out to Alex Serna at 949.661.0108, ext. 1322.