Gwynne Shotwell: The Importance of Role Models

06/30/2017 11:37 am ET
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX, President and COO
By NASA/Kim Shiflett - (direct link), Public Domain,
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX, President and COO

Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, discovered her passion for science late. She is a living example that it’s never too late to go into STEM; all you need is a little inspiration. Today, she is the leader of a groundbreaking corporation that builds rockets and space capsules to supply the International Space Station and aims to send a human to Mars by 2025. While Shotwell’s job is literally rocket science, the way in which she found success is not.

Shotwell’s desire to enter the STEM field was largely due to how a role model changed her perception of science. As a young girl, Shotwell was initially much more interested in careers with a traditionally higher female representation than becoming an engineer. She thought that engineers were “nerds, social outcasts, [and] nose pickers,” (Northwestern Magazine). She needed someone to show her that engineering wasn’t just a realistic career choice for her, it was a desirable one.

Like Shotwell, many young women can benefit from having a role model in STEM. Regardless of whether they think science is boring or they think that they don’t have the ability to go into a scientific field, a role model can do wonders to inspire them and instill in them the confidence to succeed in STEM. This is what Powers Education does; it provides young women with relatable mentors to show them the beauty of science.

For Shotwell, the relatable role model was a mechanical engineer at a Society of Women Engineers panel at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Shotwell recalls being fascinated with the woman, reciting, “I was fascinated with what she had to say. She owned her company, she was developing construction materials that were environmentally friendly, [and] she also had a play with solar energy.”

Meeting real people who have found success is extremely inspirational to us, and it is part of the reason why Powers Education exists. Powers Education introduces young women to a network of role models and mentors to establish a community of support and inspiration.

For Shotwell, the female mechanical engineer finally made her think, “ok, engineers can be cool too. I’ll just be a mechanical engineer.” And indeed she went on to attend Northwestern University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in applied mathematics.

Shotwell’s inspiration to enter the engineering field exemplified the importance of having role models to increase gender equality in STEM. If it wasn’t for the female engineer in the suit, Shotwell may have never believed that engineering was a tangible career path for herself. The importance of role models is evident and it is one of the main foundations of Powers Education.

Today, the tables have turned and Shotwell herself is an inspirational female engineer for other young women in science. Shotwell participates in a variety of STEM programs, helping to have raised more than $350,000 in scholarships over six years for the Frank J. Redd student competition. She is keen on bringing more young women into the industry and she sees STEM as being crucial for the nation’s future. By acting as a role model for younger girls, she hopes to demonstrate that engineering is a great career path for women.

Dr. Powers, founder and CEO of Powers Education, has also served as a role model for many young women, and her company continues to provide a platform to reach even more young women in STEM and generate more success stories.

As more women find success in STEM, there will be more role models for future generations. Hopefully all girls can find their own inspirational “female mechanical engineers” and find success in STEM just like Gwynne Shotwell has.

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