February 22, 2016

Meet the woman who’s showing girls (and boys) why it’s cool to be an engineer

By Team Ventev Topic: Lifestyle

Girl Day (Feb. 25) is a special part of National Engineers Week dedicated to showing young women how a career in engineering can change the world.

To celebrate, we asked Cheryl Jenner, our Head of Engineering & Quality, to tell us about her experiences and what advice she’d give to girls pursuing a similar path.

How were you introduced to the world of engineering? What do you like and enjoy about it?
My dad is an engineer and all around very mechanical, hands-on person. He built our new house when I was five. Growing up, he always allowed me to help with projects and encouraged me to learn how things worked. I remember one time when I brought him a game of mine that was in pieces. It had stopped working, and I had taken it apart to see if I could fix it. Even though it was in pieces and I couldn’t remember where most of them went, he seemed genuinely happy that I had tried to figure out what was wrong. He didn’t even get angry with me when I stuck a bobby pin in a socket so I could see what electricity looks like. He just asked me what I learned. I highly recommend NOT doing that because what I learned was “that was a stupid idea, and electricity hurts!”

I love everything about engineering: the challenge of coming up with new and creative products, troubleshooting problems, and fixing things that are broken. It is great to overhear my daughter tell her friend, “oh, don’t worry about it. We can give it to my mom to fix. She can fix anything!” And, I especially love going into stores, pointing out products I have designed and saying, “That’s mine!” For me, there isn’t a bigger thrill than that.

What was your first job? How did you find it?
My first engineering job was for Xerox. I was hired into their Technical Development Program where you spent time with the Sales and Service team, then in a manufacturing role (if you were going into design), and then into the design role. It’s a great way for engineers to understand how the business works and how what they do influences the business.

My college (like most others) had an excellent recruiting program where several companies came on campus to recruit engineers. There was a job fair where I got to decide who I wanted to interview with. And then, I was offered “on site” visits and interviews with companies that wanted to interview me further. I was a hard working student, so I was able to be in the driver’s seat when it came to deciding where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do.

Did you experience any challenges being a female in a male-dominated industry?
There have been times when I definitely felt my abilities had been questioned because I was female. But, I found that those, who seemed to be giving me problems for being female, were generally negative people and gave other people problems for other contrived reasons. So, it wasn’t about me being female but about them being a jerk.

Another important thing to note is there were women that paved my way. I always have had great admiration for the female engineers that came before me. I think they met with much more resistance than I ever did. I mostly felt encouragement from older engineers – like my second boss. He had kids my age, so he was a wonderful mentor. He never saw me as a “girl” but just a member of his team. He did a lot to mentor me and would have never stood for anyone treating me any different than the male engineers.

Why is it important for women to pursue careers in engineering?
I think it’s important to pursue a career you love…period! If you are a female who is creative, good at math and science, and you love solving problems, you shouldn’t say, “oh, engineering is not for me. It’s a man’s field.” I don’t believe there are any gender-specific careers. If you can do the job, you should do it.

What can educators do to encourage more women to pursue engineering/STEM careers? Is there anything you do as a leader to guide or mentor junior female staff?
It’s an interesting question. I have never found any educators that dissuaded my love of math and science. When I was a high school junior and not sure of what career I should pursue, it was my English teacher that told me that since I loved math and science, I should look into engineering. My math, physics, chemistry, and biology teachers all treated the genders equally in their classes. Maybe I was lucky. But, with my daughter, I also saw a lot of encouragement from the school for girls to get involved in STEM careers. So, I don’t really think the schools are lacking in their encouragement for females to pursue STEM careers.

I have actually mentored female engineering students through my school and through an online engineering mentor program. And, what I’ve found is that female engineers need the same type of mentorship that males do. They need to understand how companies operate, how what they do affects others, how to solve difficult problems, who to turn to and when, how to deal with difficult situations and people, etc. The big thing I have always stressed to those I mentor is to have faith in themselves and to know that all anyone can ask of you is to do your best. Everyone will make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes instead of beating yourself up over them. And, after mentoring male engineers, I have found that both genders need to hear the same messages.

What advice would you give to girls considering careers in engineering?
If you love it, go for it! Look for a college that has a good recruiting program. Be sure to do an internship to learn what types of roles are out there for engineers. Be “gender blind”: don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you are female, but also know your limits. Don’t feel you have to do something just because you may have a male counterpart who can do it. More than likely there is another male out there who can’t do it either. Realize most everything out there in this world is not gender specific (except having a baby, so as a female, you’ve got one-up on men on that!) but instead individual specific. See yourself as an individual and focus on what you can and can’t do…not what “girls” supposedly can and can’t do!

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