Kristine Gonzales, a native of the North Texas area, says that attending the 2006 High-Tech High Heels AP Physics Camp inspired her to become an engineer. Today, she has a bright career ahead of her at BAE Systems, where she is working in the Operations Leadership Development Program (OLDP) in New Hampshire while also pursuing a master’s degree. She shared with us how her experience from the AP Physics Camp shaped her future, and her advice for girls who want to follow in her footsteps.
HTHH: Where did you go to college and what was your major?
KG: I received my undergraduate degree from Northeastern, where I majored in Mechanical Engineering and minored in Business Administration. I am now back at Northeastern pursuing my master’s degree in Engineering Management part-time while working at BAE Systems full-time.
HTHH: What does it mean to be in the Operations Leadership Development Program at BAE Systems?
KG: The OLDP is a three-year program that develops high-potential recent graduates into future leaders at BAE Systems through challenging rotation assignments, technical and leadership training, advanced education, leadership opportunities and mentorship. In this unique program, I have opportunities to work on projects that I would most likely not have had until many years into my career, such as working directly for the Director of Operations and attending meetings with the VP of Operations. Right now, I’m finishing up my first rotation in continuous improvement, where I’m working on implementing lean manufacturing principles.
HTHH: Did you always want to be in a STEM career?
KG: When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the weather and thought it would be cool to be a meteorologist. During middle school I realized I was very strong in the math and sciences, and in high school I learned about engineering and decided that’s what I would pursue.
HTHH: Is that when you were introduced to the High-Tech High Heels AP Physics Camp?
KG: I applied to the High-Tech High Heels Physics Camp for Girls during my sophomore year. The camp was offered at my high school and taught by one of the physics teachers, Dr. Jensen. At this point, I had not had Dr. Jensen as a teacher, but I had heard great things about her. I had signed up to take advanced physics classes in my junior year, and I knew that being in this summer program would prepare me to take on the challenges ahead.
HTHH: How was your camp experience?
KG: Although I knew the Physics Camp would be rewarding, I did not expect to have as much fun as I did. Dr. Jensen is one of the best instructors that I have ever had. Her enthusiasm and passion for teaching makes the most difficult problems seem possible. At camp, I also met other girls who were interested in STEM, and professionals who had taken that same direction.
HTHH: Did the AP Physics Camp prepare you for the challenges of college?
KG: My physics background was the foundation for choosing a mechanical engineering degree. During my freshman year of college, I actually had my mother mail me my high school physics notes so that I could use them for studying!
HTHH: You were sure about your path from a young age, but not all girls are as confident. Who gave you the confidence and inspiration to pursue STEM?
KG: My biggest inspiration is definitely my mother. I’ve never encountered anyone else who is so passionate about learning and is not afraid to ask for help. She inspires me to never stop and always keep striving for more. I’ve also been very inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I read her book “Lean In” this past summer and loved her story and advice for young professionals.
HTHH: What is your advice for girls who are unsure about pursuing a STEM career?
KG: I am currently in a rotational program that hires people from all disciples. Because of my engineering background, I have no constraints when it comes to choosing my next rotation. Some of the people in my program who don’t have an engineering background are limited because they aren’t eligible for certain positions. When I talk to them about the different engineering careers that are available they always say, “I wish I had known about that when I was choosing a major.” People think with a mechanical engineering degree you will be sitting at your desk doing tolerance analysis all day or with an electrical engineering degree you’ll be stuck programming for 12 hours a day. There are so many other things you can do with these degrees!
Also, there are many types of engineering degrees besides mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. There are industrial, systems, environmental engineering and many more. My advice would be to research your options and learn about the many opportunities that exist with these degrees. There are also many resources available in schools. My college had weekly chemistry and physics study sessions that were sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers chapter. Other colleges have similar resources.
HTHH: Now for a few fun questions! Are you ready?
Apple or Android? I’ve had an iPhone since it first came out!
Favorite apps? MyFitnessPal and Pinterest. I’m in the process of planning my wedding, so I am always pinning things!
What’s on your DVR? Scandal, Modern Family, and Say Yes to the Dress (I’m planning a wedding so that makes it ok, right?)
What music are you streaming? I’ve been obsessed with Justin Timberlake since ‘N Sync.
Instagram or Twitter? Definitely Instagram. I’m one of those weird people who takes pictures of my food.
Who’s your favorite geek? I like Jamie from Mythbusters. He always wears cool hats.