STEM & GEMS: Insects and plants fascinate “bug nerd” Lauren Williamson

lauren photo in CBCEditor’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 Lauren Williamson, Entomologist in the Cockrell Butterfly Center

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science?
Williamson: Ever since I can remember! I was always catching bugs, playing with animals, and looking at flowers, plants, etc.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Williamson: I had a biology teacher in junior high that told me about entomology and told me that I should look into that field for a career since I had such an interest in insects.

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Williamson: An insect collection, of course!

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Williamson: My title is “entomologist”, aka “bug nerd.” My job revolves around importing exotic butterflies to display in our Butterfly Center. Not only do I need to know a lot about insects, but I also need to know about government regulations, computer applications, and accounting. We also do a lot of outreach programs, so it’s a necessity to be comfortable presenting to large groups.

To get a degree in entomology you have to take extensive coursework in biology, chemistry, physiology, and math.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Williamson: I play with butterflies all day — need I say more? Not to say that my job doesn’t involve a lot of hard work, because it does, but the fun parts of my job make it all worth it!

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Williamson: I love to play with my animals (three dogs: Merle, Hank, and Molly; and a bird: Carlos), go on insect collecting trips, camping, crafts, going to museums and seeing movies with my husband.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Williamson:
Make sure you study, study, study! Ask a lot of questions and learn all of the material as much as possible. Every year adds more information to the knowledge base you already have, so it only gets harder.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Williamson: This is a great way to experience some of the wonderful career paths you can take with a firm knowledge of science, engineering, technology, and math. These subjects are the foundation of our everyday lives, whether you realize it or not! There will always be a demand for employees in these ever-growing and changing fields so it is important to get in an interest in them as soon as possible.

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STEM & GEMS, Part III: Air Liquide’s Megan Morrison has always wanted to defy the laws of physics

Editor’s Note: In anticipation of our upcoming GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event on Feb. 8, we interviewed several women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. So far, we’ve interviewed Air Liquide’s Victoria Rockwell and HMNS’ Celeste Poorte.This week, we’re featuring Megan Morrison, a Biological Engineer at Air Liquide.

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?
Morrison: A child doesn’t have to ask questions about calculus or chemical equations to show interest in STEM topics. It may seem like a silly question to ask, “How hard would I have to jump in the air to never come back down?” but kids are really asking what their escape velocity is –— which is something some engineers and rocket scientists have to think about every day.

I believe I first demonstrated interest when I said my first word. As a child, I was very interested in things that seemed to defy the laws of physics. My first word was “balloon.”

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Morrison: My middle school math teacher Mr. Fischer coached our MATHCOUNTS team. He inspired our team so much that we practiced before school every day, during lunch, during free period, and after school on Wednesdays. He showed us that hard work paid off, how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on your team, and how to utilize that understanding to achieve great things.

HMNS:  What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Morrison: My favorite project is a bit biased, because it also got me a pet on the weekends. In 7th grade, we raised two rats — which, being 7th graders at the end of the 90s, we named Jay and Silent Bob. We fed one water and oatmeal, and gave the other not only water and oatmeal, but whole milk, fruits, and vegetables. We watched as one grew much more quickly than the other for a few weeks while learning about nutrition and cellular respiration, or how the body uses food to grow and make energy. Don’t worry, after a few weeks, we fed both of them equally and they led full rat lives.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Morrison: I work as a biological engineer in Air Liquide’s ALLEX program. This two-year program sends recent college graduates all over the country (and sends some around the world) to experience different jobs in different work environments so that they can be better workers when they graduate from the program.

My company separates the air into basic components and sells purified oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases. Some of these gases are so cold that they are even sold in liquid form. My company has to understand the scientific properties of the substances they sell to be able to manufacture them safely. We use engineering and technology to design the most efficient equipment, and we use math in everything.

HMNS:  What’s the best part of your job?
Morrison: I am currently working in the cosmetics manufacturing section of business development. So, the best part about my job is that I get to apply scientific concepts to things like the chemical and physical properties of beauty products.

HMNS:  What do you like to do in your spare time?
Morrison: In my spare time, I like to see plays and musicals, golf, and volunteer in my community.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Morrison: My advice is to get started early. Join math and science teams at school. Do experiments at home. Watch documentaries, ask questions, and use all of the resources you have to get the answers. The most successful people in STEM careers enjoy STEM concepts at home too.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science)?
Morrison: For society and technology to progress, we must have the best workers in the work force, regardless of their gender. I think it is important to show underrepresented demographics what STEM fields have to offer so that they can lead fulfilling lives and 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.

STEM & GEMS, Part II: The science of raising butterflies is Celeste Poorte’s specialty

Celeste PoorteEditor’s Note: In anticipation of our upcoming GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event on Feb. 8, we interviewed several women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. Last week, we interviewed Air Liquide’s Victoria Rockwell. This week we’re featuring Celeste Poorte, Butterfly Rearing Coordinator at the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

HMNS: How old were you when you first became interested in science, technology, engineering, or math?
Poorte: As far back as I remember, I was always interested in the natural world. Once I got to high school, my interest in science really became solidified.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Poorte: 
Spending a lot time outside as a young child exposed me to interesting plant and animal life. In 9th grade I had a wonderful biology teacher that really inspired me to pursue biology.

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Poorte: 
In 9th grade we did a project where we observed the micro-organisms found in a collection of pond of water and recorded our results and identified the species. That was my favorite because it was incredible to see how many living creatures there were in a tiny speck of water.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science, technology, engineering, or math?
Poorte: 
I am the Butterfly Rearing Coordinator at the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This relates to science because I use my knowledge of butterflies and their life cycles in order to raise them.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Poorte: 
The best part of my job is that I don’t have to spend my time at a computer all day. I get to spend a lot of time outside in the greenhouses working directly with the butterflies and caterpillars.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Poorte: 
In my spare time I like to spend time with friends, read books, and take my dog to the dog park.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Poorte: 
Go to college. Aim high. Pick a subject that you are passionate about for your major and stick with it. Get as much extra experience outside the classroom as you can, like internships. Meet and talk to as many people in your field of interest as you can while you are still in school. This will definitely help you find a job once you get your degree.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Poorte:
An event like GEMS is a great way to expose girls to jobs that they might not otherwise even know existed. It’s a great way to get the information out and for them to meet real-life women who actually have STEM careers. When I was in middle school, I attended a GEMS-like event and it was a great experience for me.

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.