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, Part I: Air Liquide’s Victoria Rockwell makes the most of math in her career

FINAL-Vickie_Rockwell_smallIn anticipation of our upcoming GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event on Feb. 8, we interviewed several women who have pursued careers in math and science. This week we’re featuring Victoria Rockwell, Director of Investor Development at Air Liquide.

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM)?
Rockwell: I was in the 4th grade and read a book on the stars. It showed pictures of the constellations. I lived in the country and when I looked up to the sky at night, the constellations were there – just like in the book!

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Rockwell: My grandparents were immigrants from Europe and valued learning. “Learn all that you can — no one can ever take that away from you.” “Be whatever you want to be. Don’t let people tell you that you cannot.” These were the words of encouragement that I received. My role model was my mother who was a Rosie-the-Riveter-type during World War II. All her life she tried new things and careers and kept looking forward — never looking back.

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Rockwell: Science projects, not so much … but I love math. I love solving mysteries, and to me, a math problem is solving a mystery. Who is X? Why does Y change things? How are they related? Did Z kill Q?

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Rockwell: My current job is the Director of Investment Development at Air Liquide. There is still a lot of math involved, but we take an idea and create a new thing — a plant. It starts with an idea, an open field, engineers designing and making drawings, construction crews with hard hats and heavy equipment, digging in the dirt … and then building up, piping and tying all the pieces together. Finally the engineers start it all up — pushing the buttons to make the new products.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Rockwell: Working with a lot of smart, creative and interesting people.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Rockwell: I am active in engineering professional societies. As part of the work I do there, I meet with students, parents, community members, university faculty, and other engineers to tell them about the importance of engineering and science in our lives. As part of my involvement in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), I was invited to the White House three times to participate in events that promoted women and the economy. I met Mrs. Obama, the president’s science adviser, and even the President on my last visit.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Rockwell: GO FOR IT! Don’t let anyone tell you it is not for you. If you have the interest, explore it. If you stumble the first time, try again. Sometimes you are not ready to learn the first time around.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Rockwell: To give them the support, options and opportunities. Engineering, math and science are fun. There are mysteries to solve, things to explore that lead to new discoveries, and ways to make the world a better place.

Know a girl who’s interested in math and science? Come to GEMS (Girls Exploring Math & Science) on Sat., Feb. 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  The Museum will be filled with hands-on science and math for everyone to experience. Local professionals will be at the Museum to answer questions about their careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The event is free with paid admission to the Museum. Click here for $7 admission to all permanent exhibit halls on Sat., Feb. 8.

Who run the (math and science) world? GIRLS! Join HMNS Feb. 16 for Girls Exploring Math and Science 2013

Remember when Beyoncé asked, “Who run the world?” We totally think she was on to something.

Join HMNS on February 16 for GEMS 2013, an entire day dedicated to the answer to that question — Girls Exploring Math and Science.

Join us Feb. 16 for GEMS: Girls Exploring Math and ScienceIn partnership with the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, HMNS will host an open house with local professionals on-hand to answer questions and discuss their careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. We’ll also have a variety of STEM-related activities and games, as well as informational booths on topics ranging from Mars rovers to human organs to optical illusions to the science behind skin care.

GEMS is open to girls of all ages as well as friends and family, so bring the whole crew!

What: Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)
When: Saturday, Feb. 16; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: HMNS Main Campus, 5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Cost: FREE with museum admission! (Click here for a coupon for discounted general admission!)

Student booths have just been accepted for GEMS 2013. Contact educationquestions@hmns.org for more info or to learn how you can participate.

GEMS is generously supported by Air Liquide and KBR.

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!