Christiane Walker is an Engineering Consultant at the Center for Transportation and the Environment in Georgia. She recently shared her STEM journey with us as part of our #EducationIsOpen campaign’s “Women In STEM” month.
“My favorite traditional science subject in school was Biology. I think what interested me the most about it at the time was how connected and practical to life it felt. I felt like I could actually see the different concepts that were being taught, even as I grew older and went to college. I ended up majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, where my favorite subject was Molecular Cell Biology. I also really enjoyed band in middle school and high school, and think music and art are critical to a full STEM education. These subjects open and challenge our minds in ways that are imperative to pushing the STEM field forward.”
“I’ve always been an experimenter and I was very lucky that my parents encouraged those impulses. They even let me pour a line of gasoline down our driveway and light it on fire (under supervision, of course.) Afterwards, we discussed volatility and combustibility of liquids and how that can equate to energy that can be dangerous, but also useful – like driving a traditional gas-powered vehicle.”
“When I was in 6th grade, I made a working model of a human heart with some tubing and bulb syringes that I cut up and glued together. I put some red-colored water in one tray and then manually pumped the different chambers of the heart to get the water to flow to the other tray. I’m still pretty impressed with myself on that one!”
“In addition to experimenting and building things, I also loved fixing things. Toys, TVs, books, I’d try and repair anything so that it didn’t end up in the trash. I wasn’t always successful, but I learned as much with every failure as I did with success. All these little things that we do every day are Science if we just take a moment to study and learn from them. I want to encourage young women, and actually everyone to get out there and actually do it. Try things for yourself, think for yourself, use your own creativity and your own mind to see what you can discover, what problems you can solve, and you’ll be amazed by what you can learn.”
“As far back as I can remember, I have always imagined myself in a STEM career. I was very good naturally at Math and Science, and I LOVED to read. Depending on the day or the year, I would alternate between wanting to be a doctor, an astronaut, or a vet. But I got a rude awakening in college that perhaps medicine, either for people or animals, was not the career for me. But it took falling on my face to realize that there was a whole world of STEM careers out there to enjoy, not just the ones kids can get to see on career day.”
“It was these ‘hidden’ STEM careers where I really felt at home. Some of the experiences that helped me the most were the things that seemed less “sciencey” at the time – turning a wrench to work on an engine, building campfires, figuring out how to prop up something heavy to get it to stay in place, etc. The little problems that you have to solve when you’re figuring out how to do something in the real world that you haven’t done before build skills in you that you don’t even realize are being built. And then one day, you’re twisting 6 miles of metal 3,000 ft below the Earth’s surface and totally crushing it and everyone wants you to work for them. The more things you can get into and try, the better off you’re going to be in everything you do, whether you’re in a STEM career or not.”
“After college, I started working in the oil field. I worked on off-shore oil rigs all over the world and managed drilling operations for lots of companies. I had a very technical job and did lots of complex data interpretation and analysis and was able to put my practical and theoretical knowledge of physics to use to become one of the top engineers internationally, and I assisted in the development and rollout of technologies that are shaping the oil and gas industry today.”
“One of the things that I am most proud of in my working life is walking away from the oil and gas industry at very high point in my career. I was rising quickly in my company and in the field, but the work that I was doing wasn’t sitting right with me and every day that pit in my stomach grew. So, I decided to take a break and ended up organizing community activist groups and doing social and racial justice work.
Eventually, I became an engineering consultant for the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE). CTE is a non-profit engineering firm that is working to mitigate climate change through the development and deployment of clean transportation technology. I love my job because I get to do all sorts of technical work, but I also get to advocate for a better and more just future.”
“To encourage other young women to pursue STEM studies, I think probably the biggest piece of advice I would give to young girls is to find your courage and to find your voice. In STEM fields, it’s still really easy to be spoken over, or not taken as seriously as your male counterparts. And the only real way that we can change that is to start speaking up and speaking out. It can get very uncomfortable, but we need to do that every day, both for ourselves and one another. The more we speak up, the more men will have to acknowledge our contributions.”
“It is so important to have women in STEM fields is the same reason why it is so important to have BIPOC, LGBTQ+ people, folks from under-resourced communities, and everyone in between in STEM fields. Beyond just the basic principals of equality – diversity is critical to advancement and innovation. If everyone in the room has similar life experiences and the same basic worldview, that room is at a huge disadvantage as to what it can create, produce, and solve because the view is coming through the same lens.”