Sharing Our STEM Stories

February 21, 2023

There’s power in a story.


The power to connect, to inspire, to set a life’s course.


Behind every woman in STEM, there’s a story about what ignited her interest, the work that inspires her today, and the wisdom she offers for those who would follow her path.


We recently celebrated International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Engineers Week started February 19, and International Women’s Day is right around the corner on March 8. To mark those occasions, four of our colleagues shared a little of their STEM stories. 





Kaitlyn Baker

Assistant engineer, data center on-site services



What made you want to be an engineer?


I am the first person in my family to graduate with an engineering degree. So, for me, it’s been a love of learning and a curiosity about how things work from a young age. My interest in scientific fields, specifically, inspired me to pursue engineering.



What kinds of projects do you most enjoy?


Recently I transferred to a different team and I have really enjoyed being on work sites. I was previously doing design, so it’s been great seeing both sides of a project. I like putting on PPE (personal protective equipment), going out every day, and seeing the progress.



What were some favorite college classes?


My favorite classes at Colorado State University were heat and mass transfer, mechatronics, design, and global environmental sustainability.  I enjoyed mechatronics and design courses because they were hands-on and required me to apply knowledge and theories learned in other classes. Environmental sustainability was another favorite because I am passionate about creating a cleaner and more sustainable future for our society.



Any advice for women and girls interested in STEM?


Get involved! That could be clubs or research work with a teacher or professor. I think one of the best times to try out things is when you’re a student. Also, ask lots of questions when you don’t quite understand a concept. It can seem scary to ask in front of people, or there might be fear of not sounding “smart,” but it will only be beneficial in the long run. Or, you can always write down questions during class and ask during the instructor’s office hours.



What about tips for landing that first full-time job?


My advice would be to practice and prepare for interviews. Interviews make me nervous and I don’t love the environment, so figuring how to talk about my past experiences and preparing the questions I wanted to ask made it easier. Then apply, apply, apply. Especially as women, we tend to see the criteria in a job posting and think if we don’t match perfectly, we won’t apply. Don’t let that stop you. Lastly, I would say its perfectly OK if the first professional engineering job you land is not exactly what you thought you’d be doing.





Kylie Steel, PE

Project engineer, rail/bridge



What made you want to be an engineer?


When I was a senior in high school, a couple of University of Nebraska at Omaha engineering students gave a presentation to my physics class. Their presentation intrigued me and so I researched all the different types of engineering fields. I liked the structural side of civil engineering and never looked back.



What were some favorite classes in college?


I liked all the structural specific classes.



What kinds of projects do you most enjoy?


It’s a joke on my team that my name is Kylie Steel but I usually work on our concrete design projects so I should change my name to Kylie Concrete. So, I guess I would have to say I like concrete structures.



Any advice for women and girls interested in STEM?


My advice would be to get involved with your peers and engineering groups. Engineering schools typically have a lot of opportunities, events, and competitions to try out. Getting involved helps expand your experiences and teamwork skills. Also, building your network will help you in the future.



How about tips for those embarking on a career in STEM?


Don’t be afraid to speak up and lead. You can do it!





Vivian Fung, AICP

Community planner


What made you want to be a planner?


I am inspired by beautifully designed public spaces that integrate nature and foster community. My college campus (Stephen F. Austin State University) is one of these places. It was there I found my love for the intersection of people and place – which I consider the foundation of city planning. I got my undergraduate degree in social sciences and went on to study city planning on another beautiful campus (University of Texas at Arlington.)



What were some favorite college classes?


My favorites were geography and demography. I am fascinated by the interrelated nature of people and place. I took a keen interest in the scientific approach to understanding the patterns in how people operate and the way our lives are shaped by the built and natural environments.



What kinds of projects do you most enjoy?


I love working on downtown plans! The character, design, economics, history, and uniqueness of downtowns make each one challenging and compelling. I love working with communities to envision the future of their downtowns.



Any advice for women and girls interested in STEM?


Time is your most valuable resource. Be strategic in the classes you take, the clubs you join, the jobs you work, and the people you surround yourself with. That said, there’s more to life than your career. Balance is absolutely key.



Any tips for those embarking on a career in STEM?


Art and STEM complement each other beautifully. If you are both highly creative and highly analytical, there is absolutely a place for you in STEM. Hold on to those creative interests and know that your “left brain” and “right brain” tendencies are equally valuable as you navigate your career.





Debbie Klisis, PE

Senior engineer, general civil



What made you want to be an engineer?


I attended a middle school workshop for girls interested in science where we met women in technical fields. The opportunity to learn what they did in their jobs gave me the confidence to pursue a career in science and engineering.



What were some favorite classes in college?


I enjoyed a class on 3D drawing, technical drawing, and introduction to CAD (computer-aided design). It helped me understand concepts of 3D and visualizing an object in two dimensions. As a visual learner, I liked civil engineering because I couldn’t do electrical engineering where you don't see what you are working on! I also enjoyed materials science, learning about different materials and their properties.



What kinds of projects do you most enjoy?


I enjoy grading parking lots. I love the puzzle of making all the constraints work together. I like to imagine a car driving on the lot, visualizing the grades from the vantage point of the car and how it feels to drive on it.



What advice would you give to women and girls interested in STEM?


In high school, keep your options open and max out on science and math classes. But don’t forget the importance of language and writing. So much of the job is writing – whether a report, an inspection summary, or daily emails – it's important to write clearly and accurately. 



How about tips for those embarking on a career in engineering?


There is a societal expectation of what engineers should be. However, engineering is like anything in life, it takes all kinds of people across the spectrum to make a business function. You may not fit the mold, but you have skills that make you unique and valuable. Also, take your time after school and get the job you want. Your first job can define your career more than you may realize.