Jonna Gerken: Why I Became An Engineer

This post was inspired by our Engineering Working Moms Facebook Group. A post from member Amy. She asked the women of the group to explain why they became an engineer.

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Aspiring to Be Momgineers

Why I Became An Engineer

Why I Became An Engineer. This post was inspired by our Engineering Working Moms Facebook Group. A post from member Amy. She asked the women of the group to explain in three sentences or less: why they became an engineer.

Jonna Gerken
Jonna Gerken, FY17 SWE President Elect

FY17 President Elect, Jonna Gerken tells us her own personal reasons for becoming an engineer.

“When I was young I wanted to be an architect.  I thought it would be so cool to design buildings that people worked and lived in.  I knew I was good at math and liked to know how things were built.  So my parents helped me find a summer architecture program during high school to get a head start.  I was so glad they did!  I had a great summer at Cornell University with an awesome group of other students who wanted the same thing I did- the only problem was that I was awful at it….when all the other students showed very creative designs that incorporated elements defined by the instructors, all I could come up with was a very structurally sound building that was very boring.  Why was I glad?  Because instead of moping about how un-creative I was, I realized that maybe being an architect wasn’t for me – but being an engineer who brings the architects design to reality was!  Now I’m not saying that engineers aren’t creative (they really are!), but I am not one of them – at least from the perspective of design.  What I have found out over the years, is that I have a different kind of creativity – one that revolves around efficiency, organization, and process improvements.  So here I am, 25+ years later with a degree in Industrial Engineering, a career in aerospace manufacturing, and happy that I found out early what not to do with my career.  Check out these other aha! moments from other members from the ‘Engineering Working Moms’ Facebook page:” -Jonna Gerken, FY17 President Elect.

  • Melissa: I was really good at math and I loved airplanes. I watched my single mom struggle after her divorce, and I vowed I would never depend on a man to support me financially. I knew engineers could make decent money, and here I am 🙂
  • Allison: I liked airplanes. Still do!
  • Deb:  Better at math, loved drafting, and followed Dad’s footsteps and advice. But changed from electrical to civil to build things more concrete than abstract.
  • Susie: I was good at math and science, only wanted a bachelor’s degree (as little school as possible) and I wanted to make good money. Enter that into the career match survey at the community college and the suggested degree is engineering.
  • Valerie: My dad was an engineer and always had an answer for any of my questions. I wanted to how everything worked too.
  • Allison: I wanted to make things that solved problems for people.
  • Stephanie: My dad was an EE, my big sis a CS major. I’m a Comp E- always have to be different. 🙂 Early inspiration: 3rd grade classroom had a power Macintosh with voice recognition, and a fiery red-headed teacher who occasionally changed out hard drives and such in the classroom.
  • Betty: Math rules. I wanted to solve problems. My goal in life is to buy a corvette.
  • Emily: Watched Apollo 13. Loved the engineering collaboration required to make sure those astronauts had enough clean air to get home.
  • Ginger: I wanted to save the world and make enough money so that I would not have to struggle financially and always have to say no to my family for things we wanted to experience.
  • Amy: I always loved math, science and computers. I built my own website in 8th grade, didn’t like the drag-and-drop editors so I taught myself HTML, then JavaScript, which threw me right into programming. I loved it so much that’s what I wanted to do for a living, so I ended up a computer engineer!
  • Kaisa: I loved math & was really good at solving problems, puzzles, Legos. In 7th grade, I went to a Lego engineering camp, which my uncle (who’s a comp science professor) brought to our home town. I felt in love with it then and it was a done deal ever since. <3 🙂
  • Anna: The aptitude test I took when I joined the Army showed I’d be great at civil engineering. I found that I loved being one of the good guys, and never looked back.
  • Christina: Legos & blocks, my tenth grade chemistry teacher (also twelfth grade physics), & someone told me I couldn’t. I like proving people wrong.
  • Libby: My uncle was a civil engineer, and all I knew about his job was that he lived in Spain for work for a while, and civil engineers did something with buildings. That was enough!
  • Kristi: Cool toys. When I was little, my dad took me to his work and shot calibration lasers at satellites. I wanted my own cool toys to do and make stuff with.
  • Jenni: Financial independence. Less schooling. Mostly, my engineering father tauvht me to always ask why, how, and we took apart everything that broke yo learn why.
  • Denise: I loved math and was a mechanical engineer.
  • Stephanie: Single mom of two who needed a better career than provided by my liberal arts degree. My mom and (ex)bf suggested engineering. I crave variety & lifelong learning so I did.
  • Lindsay: I didn’t. I wanted to be an opera singer! There was pretty much an intervention where my AP teachers said I was too good not to study engineering and my parents said they wouldn’t pay for vocal performance. I have never regretted it. I loved school and every job. I sing at church and annoy my children in the car.
  • Christina: It was suggested that since I was good at math and science, engineering was an option for me. I wanted to be an architect, researched and found out that engineers made more money, and decided to go to school for engineering instead.
  • Kathleen: My 10th grade math teacher encouraged me to research engineering. He was right! Made my decision then and luckily it’s all worked out 🙂
  • Kristin: Because they said middle eastern girls can’t be Engineers, that’s a man’s job.
    Because my dad didn’t agree with them and brought us to America when I was 8 to have a better life.
    Because math is a universal language and that was the only thing that didn’t change for me when we moved here. Because I was a curious little girl that took EVERYTHING apart to see how it works. Because I had a great influence in my life that told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Because of Chrystal radios and Lego robots.
  • Aluxendreea: Single mom at the time, financial independence, less schooling, good pay, 9-5.
  • Carolyn: Because someone told me I couldn’t do it…and I liked math and science. But it was mainly because someone who said I couldn’t do it.
  • Alice: Encouraged by teacher on High school to attend pre-engineering summer camp as a sophomore. Best summer ever!
  • Jessica: Besides my love for math and chemistry, I wanted something that was lucrative that didn’t take as long as med school. Being on the fence, Mom said, ‘You can be in business with an engineering degree; it’s harder to do the reverse’ so I listened! (And did get an MBA 5 years later too :))
  • Soumya: Loved Lego, building stuff and solving problems as a kid and now I work in hydraulic modelling 🙂
  • Amanda: I loved tinkering and building things, so it seemed like a good fit. Though I never would have even heard of engineering if I hadn’t attended a STEM Outreach program for girls in middle school, I’d never met an engineer before that!
  • Kristin: I liked taking apart broken items around the house to figure out how they were broken and to fix them again. Engineering seemed to be a really creative outlet for me.
  • Monica: Everyone told me I couldn’t.
  • Amy: For me.. I fell in love with airplanes at 12, earned my pilot’s license at 17, and then wanted to continue to learn everything possible about airplanes and space shuttles. My dad also said I asked way too many questions as a kid.
  • Leigh: I only need 1 word: Challenger.
  • Melissa: My dad encouraged me to try it since I didn’t love any one subject but pushed myself in all of them. He had two daughters and wanted us to be able to take care of ourselves. I lucked out because I love it!
  • Linda: I was ambivalent about engineering until I learned in college I was not getting credit for taking calc 1 as a zoology major….some of my friends thought I had lost my mind, one said, you are jumping from the frying pan into the fire! But I had enough engineering role models to give me confidence I could do this!
  • Lara: Like most others I liked math and chemistry. My dad is a mechanical engineer and encouraged me to try engineering. Said he thinks I would like and be good at chemical engineering. The pay is a bonus too.All of this talk about math gets me thinking about the math song in School of Rock.”Math is a wonderful thing
    Math is a really cool thing
    So get off your ath, lets do some math
    Math, Math, Math, Math, Math”
  • Suzanna: I wanted to be a vet/actor/gossip columnist/math teacher. Because I’m an engineer, I get to donate to pet charities (and not have to “put” animals down), take an acting/improv class (if I want), gossip (oh work gossip) and write (yay blogging), and most important teach children STEM through all the SWE/other org outreach events I do. And I was good at math and science, parents and teachers encouraging, yada yada.
  • Allison: I grew up loving airplanes (as you could probably guess) and played with Legos instead of dolls. I was fascinated with watching how things are made. While I was in high school, I was torn between engineering and architecture, but knew that I wanted to build things.Fast forward 20-ish years and I have a BSME and work in manufacturing. It just made sense.
  • Karen: I was poor and when I turned on the water it would shock me and no one could figure out why. My said it was a simple fix…needed a neutral wire not 50 grounds
  • Joyce: My role model was my dad, who always believed hard work and persistence made the best engineers. He worked from home for his engineering consulting business and I got to see him every afternoon and be able to ask questions. I enjoyed chemistry and could do math.
  • Terri: I liked math and computers and was told I should start in engineering rather than computer science. It’ll be easier to switch that direction if you want.
  • Melissa: Always like solving problems, and tinkering with things. First exposure beyond working with my dad on home projects/vehicles was building a vehicle in Odyssey of the Mind in elementary school. Thought for sure I’d be a lawyer (enjoy debating) and go patent law to stay technical but exposure to a patent lawyer totally turned me off (didnt want to go to a firm- not family friendly- and in house legal counsel rarely litigates) so I stayed straight engineering. Love it.

And then one final reason Lucy Toman, a SWENext Ambassador, became an Engineer: “I had a teacher in 2nd grade who really inspired my love of science, and in turn, my love of engineering. She was a spunky woman who had short grey hair and loved to teach in different ways – we learned about the human body from her own x-rays, we learned about fractions from cutting the elementary school principal’s tie in thirds (unbeknownst to him), we learned about inches and feet by measuring the school hallway. She made STEM topics exciting and interesting AND she was a woman, so it became clear to me (very early on) that you didn’t have to have a Y chromosome to excel in a STEM career. Ever since that 2nd grade class, I have worked hard to pursue my love of math and science and engineering as a career. To me, engineers create and problem solve and make change. I am very excited to get to do all of those things and make an impact on the people around me.”

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