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Archives for : April2018

I’m a 28-year veteran of the global healthcare company Abbott, where I’m responsible for the company’s engineering, regulatory, and quality assurance functions in over 150 countries

I started my career at Abbott in 1989 and have held a number of senior positions, including senior manufacturing engineer, production manager, and engineering manager.

In 2012, I began the Abbott’s high school STEM internship program, targeting underrepresented students. A high school engineering internship changed the trajectory of my life when I was 17, and I am passionate about helping young people, especially girls and minorities, realize their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) dreams. To date, almost 90 young people have taken part and 97 percent are pursuing a STEM degree or have a STEM job.

This is as personal as it gets.

The fact that only one in seven engineers is a woman. That only one in 50 is an African-American female. The fact that I, as an African-American female engineer am 10 times rarer than a woman in Congress.

As a young woman, my mom and my grandfather encouraged me to study math and science, and today I work at Abbott’s as its top engineer. My granddad only made it formally through eighth grade, but he and my family valued education. My mom went to school herself whilst raising five kids.

That’s what made the difference when an opportunity of a lifetime came my way. I was 17, working for $1.76-an-hour at Jack in the Box to cover expenses for extra-curricular programs at school, when IBM came to my inner-city Dallas school, looking for a student who could intern there for the summer.

The support of a few key teachers, a guidance counselor, and my family made the decision to work for IBM that summer a reality. What followed was another internship and eventually a degree – and a career. That internship changed the direction of my life.

This coming weekend, I’m sharing this story and taking this issue head on with thousands of students at the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington D.C., along with my colleague, Abbott neuroscientist Beth McQuiston. I know the power of words, and of stories, and hope these girls walk away knowing that no matter their ZIP code, no matter the color of the skin or their gender or their socioeconomic status – they, too, can be an engineer one day.

As much as I am thankful for the opportunity to share this vision, I also know I am just one person. As one of very few African-American female engineers, I have an obligation to do something to help close a real gap of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It’s good for our company and its future, but it’s also just the right thing to do for society and the future of innovation.

A shortage of diverse perspectives means the teams creating the next life-changing technologies in our societies are not as equipped as they otherwise would be. How can we innovate for a diverse world if we don’t have diverse innovators?

The reason STEM recruitment and retention is broken when it comes to attracting and holding on to women and minorities, I think, is they don’t see enough people who look like them in their fields, a signal to them that maybe this field isn’t for them – maybe they weren’t meant to succeed here.

To be sure, the fix to that is not straight forward as it may seem. But one thing parents, schools and companies need to do is invest in these young people early, so they see STEM as a viable career option.

Only 10 percent of girls say their parents encourage them to pursue engineering, for instance. That is way too low.

STEM is not hard and boring – it can be intuitive and exciting. Abbott invests in a high school STEM internship program that reaches students as young as 15, empowering them to work on real business problems and giving them a taste of what it’s really like to work in the field, transforming abstract concepts into tangible career options. Outside of the high school internship, since 2006, Abbott has worked with more than 700 schools and community organizations to inspire more than 285,000 students interested in STEM.

We also need to be quick to speak up for good STEM work and education policy. Like I wrote in The Hill, we need Ph.Ds. and inventors, yes – but we also need people with technical skills to work in labs, build prototypes, write code and fill the many, many other STEM-related jobs of the future.

If you work at another company and you’re still with me, I am here for you. I know it isn’t easy to get something like a high school STEM internship off the ground, but I’ve done it. I am willing to share my blueprints. This is bigger than me, and bigger than Abbott. This is about someday, living in a world where diversity of people, ideas and thoughts are equally balanced in creating life-changing technologies that will further advance innovation, technology – and life as we know it.

Henry Sapiecha