STEM & GEMS: CB&I’s Katie Balko engineers her future

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Katie Balko, Process Engineer at CB&I.HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, or math?
Balko: Growing up, I switched what I wanted to be when I grew up almost every year. I wanted to be a teacher, then I read a book on dolphins and wanted to be a marine biologist. I liked to draw and decided I was going to be like my favorite author and write and illustrate my own books.

Math had always come easy for me. And after reading another book in high school, I decided I was going to be a physical therapist. All that changed when I took a chemistry class. I loved it. Even though I was already accepted to college for physical therapy, I decided to take a chance and on the last day of admissions, I applied to another college for chemical engineering and got in. I took my love of chemistry with the fact that I was good at math and found the right degree for me in engineering.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Balko: My chemistry teacher my senior year of high school really helped me realize that I liked chemistry. She worked with me on what would be tested in college and prepared me for what the classes would be like. It was hard, I studied every night, but it paid off in the long run.

HMNS: What was your favorite class when you were in school?
Balko: My favorite class (and lab) was Organic Chemistry. It is most people’s least favorite and I understand why. It’s tough. It was tough for me, too, but I also saw it as a puzzle with a specific set of rules. When I thought in terms of a puzzle, it made it easier. The lab was also cool because you were making things you see and hear about every day — like separating out caffeine.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Balko: Right now, I am process (chemical) engineer at CB&I, an engineering and construction company. I work for their gas processing group. I design plants that take all the “bad things” out of gas so it can be used cleanly.

I have also been switching over into a sales role over the past year. I think it’s important to keep growing in your career and I find this part of the business interesting. I also want to keep building on my degree as an engineer to do bigger and better things.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Balko: I joined on as a rotational engineer, so I got to experience a lot of different jobs in the company from chemical engineering to marketing. Through the different roles, I was able to network with a lot of people. I think the best part is having the opportunity to take a background in engineering and apply it to different roles.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Balko: Last year, I traveled a lot — both for work and for fun! This year looks to be about the same and I love it. I’m not a big movie or TV person but I love to read and to draw. I also like to stay active. I’ve been doing yoga consistently for five years, and last year I started doing CrossFit.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career? 
Balko: It’s worth it if it interests you. It will be hard, but the rewards are great. Use whatever resources you have. In college, I had a very good study group that helped push me through projects and exams. I utilized all of my teachers’ and TAs’ office hours and even had a tutor who helped get me through a hard math course.

Ask questions and don’t stop learning. Most people want to see you succeed but they won’t know you don’t understand something unless you ask them.

Volunteer. Volunteer to be the project lead in college. It might be scary and hard but you’ll figure it out and learn a lot in the process. Lead your team to help everyone succeed.         

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Balko: There are more men than women in STEM careers. Events like GEMS get girls exposed to successful women in math and science, which helps to bring awareness to their potential and knowledge about those careers.

More about Katie Balko:
Katie Balko grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. She has two younger sisters and a younger brother, and was a Girl Scout for nine years. In high school, she was on the swim, soccer and lacrosse teams. She went to Penn State University where she earned a degree in Chemical Engineering. After graduating, Balko decided to move out of state and found herself in Texas. She has now lived in Houston for six years.

HMC SWE Rosie tattoo

Click this image to go to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) website.

STEM & GEMS: BP financial analyst Lyda Marie T. Paragoso tells girls to stay STEM curious

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Lyda Marie T. Paragoso, Financial Analyst for BP’s Gulf of Mexico Operations Budgeting & Forecasting.

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Paragoso: I was five years old when I first became interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Paragoso: My parents and PBS inspired me when I was younger. My brother and I had a Popular Science subscription, and we always watched this PBS show called 3-2-1 Contact, which was an American science education show and taught scientific principles and their applications.

HMNS: What was your favorite project when you were in school?
Paragoso: In 5th grade, I made a 3-D model of the kidney organ which won an award and was displayed at the library of my elementary school. I also really enjoyed my sugar crystals science project, and in 8th grade for my Honors Earth Science project, I made a video acting as a weather forecaster using my homemade weather map.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Paragoso: 
My current job deals more with math; I interface a great deal with engineering and technology. Specifically, I’m currently a Financial Analyst at BP Gulf of Mexico Operations on the Budgeting & Forecasting team. I deal with a lot of financial data to create performance reports, analyze operations metrics and key performance indicators, and present them to the Operations Leadership Team and to the VP of Operations in order to formulate better financial forecasts and formulate more robust operations budgets.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Paragoso: The best part of my job is that I get to interface with many engineers, project managers, and other financial folks to better understand the BP oil and gas business in the Gulf of Mexico.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Paragoso: In my spare time, I enjoy traveling, cooking, playing the guitar and piano, people watching, training in Bujinkan Ninjutsu (I’m a first degree black belt), and going to the theater and movies. When time permits, I also like to volunteer for the Empowering Amputees organization, The Ronald McDonald House, and Notre Dame Catholic Church (my local church).

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Paragoso: Stay curious, focused and determined. Be open to opportunities that will get you challenged and involved.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Paragoso: It is very important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS because it is a source of inspiration and a way to feed that curiosity and hunger for knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math.

HMNS: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
Paragoso:
I’m an amputee and a cancer survivor (lost my left leg when I was 10 years old due to bone cancer, also known as osteosarcoma).

Biography of Lyda Marie T. Paragoso:
Lyda Marie T. Paragoso is currently a Financial Analyst for Gulf of Mexico (GoM) Operations Finance Budgeting & Forecasting team in support of the Discipline Capability organization, Logistics organization, VP of Operations and overall performance management across the Operations Budgeting & Forecasting teams within Gulf of Mexico Operations.

Lyda’s prior role was Performance Analyst in GoM Logistics where she was responsible for the monthly quarterly performance reports (QPRs) for each of the Gulf of Mexico production assets. She joined BP in 2004 and has held a variety of Financial Analyst roles in both North America Gas and Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to BP, she was an Assistant to the Controller at the University of St. Thomas and Tax Associate/Consultant at Arthur Andersen, LLP. Lyda has a BBA/MBA in Accounting/Finance from the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

 

SySTEMatic change: How HMNS is changing education and making math marvelous

S.T.E.M., which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, has become a popular acronym used amongst educators, and for good reason: S.T.E.M.-field careers are some of the most lucrative and have the greatest job growth potential in the early 21st century.

The S.T.E.M. philosophy is holistic: It seeks to revolutionize how math and science are taught by integrating technology and engineering into the classroom experience. In addition, it attempts to refocus the classroom away from a teacher-centric model toward a student-driven discovery process, where problem-solving and hands-on exploration are the child’s instructors.

LEGO RoboticsInstead of treating math and science separately, they are blended so that students develop real-world problem solving skills. No more asking the teacher, “When am I ever going to use this?” The hope is that students will understand at a basic level how science and math apply to their world.

HMNS embraces the S.T.E.M. philosophy wholeheartedly in our approach to education. Two of our most popular summer camps, LEGO Robotics and Advanced Robotics, are great examples of this approach.

And now, HMNS offers a similar S.T.E.M. experience during the school year! Children gain the educational edge that S.T.E.M. provides and have a blast in the process — without having to wait for summer camp or worry about early registration.

In our after-school program, children collaborate with a partner to construct models using the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT™ system, then use brand new laptops to program the models to obey commands. They are given specific challenges and engage in friendly competitions to further hone their programming skills.

Don’t let your child miss out on this multidisciplinary, collaborative, and authentic learning opportunity. To learn more about LEGO Robotics at HMNS (Sept. 11 through Nov. 13) and HMNS Sugar Land (Sept. 13 through Nov. 15) and register for class, click here!

Save The Date: GEMS on February 11, 2012!

We had a terrific time at the Girls Exploring Math and Science event last year on Saturday, February 19, 2011. The Museum was buzzing with lots of learning – songs about kinetic and potential energy, buzzing instruments made with straws, Popsicle sticks and rubber bands, and lots of “ah-hah” moments throughout the day!

We had a fabulous presenting sponsor in KBR and two of their engineers were our featured speakers, Rachel Amos and Elaine Jimenez. Rachel and Elaine shared with the GEMS attendees a bit about their careers in Mechanical Engineering with KBR, their education, some tips for aspiring young engineers and scientists, and even a little about what they loved about math and science as kids. Interactive booths were hosted throughout the building by students, girl scout troops and local organizations and companies – there was so much to learn everywhere you turned!

Girl Scout booths have just been accepted for GEMS 2012 and there are some exciting topics and new ideas I’m very excited to see.

We’re still accepting applications from School Groups for booths and if you’re just now considering hosting a booth with your friends or opening it up to your class for extra credit it’s time to get some brainstorming going!  

What is a topic you’d like to know more about? What have you recently learned that you would want to share with your peers?

Here are a few links to sites that might inspire you for your awesome GEMS booth! Applications for school booths can be found online here at the HMNS website.

The Library of Congress – Everyday Mysteries

PBS.org’s Zoom for kids  – this link is to the engineering section but they offer lots more if you click around

How Stuff Works – go ahead – ask how it works!

Penn State College of Agricultural Science – Food Science

Exploratorium.edu - so many cool things to explore!

I’m also including some fabulous outcomes provided by some of our super star 2011 presenters, the “Truth in Numbers” group and the Rice University Association for Women in Mathmatics both presented booths on the topic of statistics and asked visitors to participate in their experiments pulling samples and recording results!

We can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with for GEMS 2012!

Visitors were asked by the Rice University Association of Women in Mathmatics to open a funsize bag of M&M's candies and chart how many candies of each color were included.