Women in Engineering, Interview with Brittany Young, Project Engineer

brittany-1Brittany Young loved science from a young age, and is now a UMBC chemical engineering and chemistry major, as well as working as a Project Engineer and Technician at Key Technology, Inc.  She has had the pleasure of working at APL, NASA and McCormick & Co. She’s also involved in STEM mentorship programs to promote STEM education among Baltimore city youth.  She believe that it is our responsibility as women to nurture the future STEM leaders. She shares her story, as well as her hopes for the future…

Sarah Worsham: Please tell us about what you do.

Brittany Young: I do research and development for different projects (mostly medical devices) from testing for quality assurance, design of product, testing procedure and over all development. I work with a team of mechanical engineers to successfully complete the prototypes for medical devices that will be available on the market for purchase soon.

Sarah: What does your day-to-day look like?

Brittany: I usually get to work around 10 am and depending on how much work I need to do or have done, I leave around 5 pm. My job is pretty relaxed, during snow days I come in my sweats and am sure to have slippers because my feet are wet. We have fun days like ” Waffle Wednesday” but also have meetings and conferences daily with the client or among engineers or the project team about updates or new developments. I work in a “lab” — this is a project room full of prototypes and things needed to test the prototype.

Sarah: What’s the highlight of your day?

Brittany: The highlight of my day is when I resolve an issue in testing or finalize a piece of the device that I am working on. As an engineer and a person that in general loves to learn, I like challenges and I like  figuring out how things work and how to make them better.

Sarah: What’s the most difficult part of your job?

Brittany: The most difficult things are sometimes the same things that I enjoy, like running into random challenges in the design of the device and deciding what test to run to fix it or what to do next. It’s only difficult because I will be so close to resolving an issue and another issue will pop in but it’s these same difficulties that keep me engaged.

Sarah: What do you hope to do after your degree?

Brittany: After my master’s degree, I plan to continue in my degree program and hopefully receive my PhD. I will also continue to work in my field and maybe return to one of the companies I previously worked for like NASA or Johns Hopkins APL. Immediately following my graduation, however, I want to travel the world for a few months (at least 3) to treat myself.

Sarah: Please give us a quick summary of the mentorship programs for STEM that you’ve been involved in. What types of questions and concerns have been brought up concerning a STEM career?

Brittany: I have been on both sides of mentoring ship programs as both mentor and mentored. When I was younger I was in the science club, and MESA (Math, Engineering, Science and Achievement).

I became a mentor to incoming freshman while in high school. This mentorship program continues today and I mentor a lot of girls from my high school. Also, I work with First Lego League Robotics teams in Baltimore City to help the coaches prepare for the exhibition games. This same mentorship has developed into a partnership with Baltimore City Community College and their STEM program where I mentor men and women in community college and have them mentor the robotics students. Its a full circle of mentoring programs.

My biggest concern with STEM careers is that there aren’t enough people pushing the initiative to capture students in k-12 as well as those like myself who are still in college. Without capturing and mentoring college students there will be a gap in STEM careers and those who want to pursue the careers.

Sarah: In your entire career, what’s been your favorite job or project and why?

Brittany: I have had a lot of great experiences so far in my career. At McCormick I was a process developer intern and often performed lab analysis by cooking different types of food but my favorite project so far has been “Mickey Mouse on Mercury” at NASA which landed the project on the CNN’s “The Situation Room”. At NASA, I posted craters of the day for the public website and ran across a crater that was shaped like Mickey Mouse. The same day, the crater image was all over the news and its always fun to goggle it and have the papers reference me and my work.

Sarah: Was there a particular event or moment when you decided to pursue a career in STEM?

Brittany: I was interested in STEM from a young age but in 1st grade I became apart of the science club and had a teacher who was also very into science. That Christmas I asked for a chemistry set and ended up mixing the wrong things together and blew my eye brows off. At the time I didn’t understand what went wrong but I had this need to figure out how things work. This discovery led me to the STEM field and I knew I had to have a career within it. In the 1st grade I was determined to learn about every type of science and knew that I belonged here.

Sarah: What has been most important in terms of getting where you are today?

Brittany: My resilience and passion got me where I am today. I am not a quitter and have had some hardships in my life. During my freshman year of college, my second week of school, my mother died. I was on a full scholarship and had graduated HS within the top of my class, but I found myself failing classes, losing my scholarship and ultimately failing out of school. After I remembered all of the things my mother taught me and the years of telling her that I would be a scientist of engineer, I knew I would not let anything, even myself, stop me and I think that’s how I got to the place I am now.

I would also attribute my current status to my time at Baltimore City Community College. After failing out of school and taking time to gather myself, I returned to school at community college and was able to regain myself as an academic. The same year I became a student at the school was also the same year they started their STEM program which paid for school and helped push me back in the right direction.

Sarah: What was your favorite game or toy growing up?

Brittany: Every Christmas I solidified the idea that I was a nerd. I have gotten things like telescopes, microscopes, video scopes, test tube sets, rocks analyzer sets and tons of Barbies but my favorite thing ever was, of course, my chemistry set. The set was for high school students but my parents trusted me. While I did blow off my eyebrows once, I also made a lot of polymers and glued my brothers and sister to their chairs. It had a big book of lab experiments and kept me entertained for years. Hands down, that was my favorite toy ever.

Sarah: Have you ever had any difficulties in your career due to your gender? How did you handle them?

Brittany: Gender plays a key part of the STEM field. As a woman and as a Black woman, and an engineer, I am ALWAYS in the minority or the only one. In classes there are few women and in every job that I have had so far, with the exception of McCormick, I have been the only Black woman. The job that I am at now has more women, which is good, but even there I am the only Black person. Don’t get me wrong, race and gender do not matter when it comes to work and quality of work, I just always think that its said that in 2014 there isn’t diversity in the STEM field.

During my first internship I recall being asked if I was the secretary because the department that I was in was dominated by men. I didn’t let it bother me, but it cemented the idea that I have to be successful and that I have to make sure that other upcoming students join the STEM field so I continue to reach back and help or mentor.

Sarah: What advice do you have to anyone interested in a similar career?

Brittany: Never give up and always diversify yourself. I have had jobs that do not relate to my specific type of engineering or had nothing to do with what I thought I liked but through the experience, I gained a new skilled and continued to educate myself. Always be open minded about positions because you never know what you may learn or what you can find out about yourself with each experience.

Thank you to Brittany for sharing her story!  Hopefully you found her story helpful, interesting and inspiring.  If you would like to share your own story, please submit your information and we’ll be in contact soon!

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