#298 – College and Career Connections: Women in STEM, with Lisette Terry, Structural Forensic Engineer

Unpacking Education June 19, 2024 40 min

We begin a series of episodes that focus on college and career connections. These episodes will explore college and career choices as well as ways in which K–12 educators can help prepare students for these fields. In this episode, we are joined by Structural Forensic Engineer Lisette Terry. Lisette introduces us to the field of civil engineering. Our conversation ranges from Lisette’s personal journey to discussions about stereotypes in the field and how educators can attract more diverse populations of students to careers in STEM.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.

Mae Jemison, NASA astronaut


Removing Limits

The theme of removing limits is present throughout this episode. How can we remove barriers that limit the careers our students consider? How can we support all students in their career aspirations, and how can we introduce students to a wide array of career opportunities?

In this episode, we explore more than Lisette’s career as a structural forensic engineer. We discuss the experiences of women in STEM fields in general, and we discuss ways to open more career doors for more students. This exploration includes the value of role models, mentors, career fairs, and engaging classroom experiences. The following are a few highlights from this episode:

  • About Our Guest: Structural Forensic Engineer Lisette Terry has 17 distinguished years of structural engineering experience. Lisette has played an important role in significant projects ranging from the design of residential structures to contributing to the Panama Canal’s Third Set of Locks.
  • Opening Doors: In 10th grade, Lisette had an opportunity to take an engineering class that allowed her to discover her passion. She says, “It was the class that changed my entire career path where I decided that I’m going to be a civil engineer.”
  • Options and Dreams: Lisette hopes that students will be attracted to STEM fields. She says, “If you really enjoy math and science, I’m pretty certain that you’re going to enjoy a career that challenges you in the STEM field.” The path can be difficult, but she encourages students to persevere, saying, “Don’t give up,” even when it’s hard.
  • Role Models: Lisette talks about the role models that she’s had throughout her life, beginning with her mother. “She taught me to be strong,” says Lisette. Another includes a former professor, Dorothy Reed. Lisette says, “She was always there with her door wide open for me.”
  • Few Women in the Field: “I would say 90% of the people I work with are men,” says Lisette. Women of color are even more rare in her field, as she shares that over her 17-year career, she has “never worked with another Black, female structural engineer.”
  • Identify Potential: Lisette recalls, “I was really excelling in math and science, and there was one teacher who recognized that in Mesa and really propped me up to decide on becoming a civil engineer.” She believes that teachers can do the same for other students, offering the following encouragement, “Be on the lookout for students who are really excelling in math and science, but they may get left on the wayside when it comes to these STEM careers because maybe they don’t look like the people who are in those careers or maybe they hang out with a group of people that don’t look like they would be in those careers.”
  • Opportunity Knowledge: Career fairs and classroom visits can help students become aware of career opportunities. As part of her efforts to give back, Lisette visits classrooms every year to talk to students about careers in STEM and engineering. She says, “Bringing it to the classroom really is a great way to hit a great range of students at one time.”
  • Introduce Engineering: Teachers can bring engineering into their classroom with fun and engaging activities, like the popsicle bridge building contest where students compete to build the strongest bridge.
  • Encourage Diversity: Lisette says that it can be motivating for students to see engineers who look like they do. When she has personally visited classrooms, she says, “A few of the young ladies, I’ve seen their eyes light up.” She encourages teachers to call out diverse role models and to send a “We want to see more of you” message to underrepresented students.
  • Panama Canal: Lisette recounts her experience working on the Panama Canal for 6 years. She talks about the challenges and successes of working on that large, impactful project.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What do you know about engineering?
  • How did you become interested in your current career?
  • How can you help students discover new career opportunities?
  • How can you introduce students to careers that they may not normally consider?
  • How might you introduce a career in engineering to your students?
  • Which of your students might be interested in engineering?

Extend Your Learning