Editor's Note: This post is part of HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the conversation here or on Twitter (#hpSTEM) as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
"Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics." ~Dean Schlicter
My first memories about work involved a very interesting set of 'stems' - no, not the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math variety - but rather the legs of the landmark water tower shaped like a transistor on the campus of Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J. I'm a "Bell Labs" baby, the child of immigrant parents who came to this country in pursuit of the American Dream, which they began to realize when my father, an electrical engineer, landed one of the much-coveted jobs at that mecca of communications innovation.
As a child, all I knew was that I, too, wanted to work at that place with the cool water tower. The types of jobs located there weren't known as "STEM" fields back then. And when I take a step back and think about it, it's almost serendipity that I would wind up with a career in STEM. Have you ever thought about what a 'stem' is? The acronym is very well aligned with the botanical definition - a stem is the main axis of a plant, the primary stalk from which buds and shoots are born.
I couldn't think of a better analogy for what STEM degrees can do for our careers. As a proud "geek" with bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, I've had the opportunity to pursue a diverse range of experiences. Early in my career, I was a hardware engineer, software engineer, systems engineer and even a network architect. These were very interesting assignments that put my training to use in a direct way. However, these roles also affirmed that I wanted to branch out differently over time, leveraging my technical background into more of "the business." It may sound a bit cliché, but I wanted to move more toward the intersection of people and technology vs. focusing on technology alone.
Since that epiphany, I've had the wonderful opportunity to "branch out," using my STEM knowledge as the foundation for a diverse range of roles over the course of several decades and at least a dozen assignments. From international operations to customer care, to several stints in product management and marketing, to strategy and planning, my career has taken many different paths, including my current role in sales! What? An engineer as a sales person? If you had told me during my college days that I'd someday be running a large sales organization, I would have laughed out loud.
I've come to appreciate my STEM foundation more and more as I get older, and as the mother of two daughters, I'm very conscious of encouraging an appreciation and aptitude for math and science. Math is one of the few universal languages in this world, and I firmly believe that with a strong foundation - let's call it a strong axis - of quantitative skills and capabilities, the possibilities are endless. Don't get me wrong, strength in the language arts is vitally important, too. However, you have a lifetime to continually work on those skills - whereas, in my experience, the same is not true for STEM-related abilities. How many people do you know (at any age) who say, "I'm not good with numbers?" My experience has been that one's aptitude with "numbers" does not necessarily improve with age - hence, the critical importance of starting out with a strong foundation.
This is analogous to careers. An education in STEM does not necessarily mean a lifetime of traditionally STEM roles. I believe that STEM degrees can lead one anywhere more readily than others. In fact, I'd offer that the common platform for social, political, and economic growth and progress across the world including success in every industry is technology. This helps to explain the ever-growing need for STEM talent and why degrees in STEM can open up a world of different experiences and opportunities. Every client I encounter realizes that technology is the key to productivity improvement, innovation and growth. In fact, securing and sustaining the right talent is top of mind as part of this, too.
A "STEM" background can serve as your primary axis, the main stalk of your career, from which a diverse range of buds and shoots can emerge. It can provide you with the foundation for a lifetime of varied, challenging, exciting and fulfilling career opportunities as you forge your path, driving progress and positive impact along the way. Now is the time to Get Growing...and there's no better way than with a solid "STEM" foundation!