Three Engineer Moms Talk STEAM - MetroFamily Magazine
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Three Engineer Moms Talk STEAM

by Hannah Schmitt

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

STEAM has become the latest buzzword in education. The acronym stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. Although these are subjects that studies show are important for kids to experience and understand from an early age, little practical information is available for how to get young children interested in the topics. We talked with three local moms working in STEAM fields about how they do this with their own kids.

Michelle Rodriguez-Pico is a mechanical engineer in OG&E’s New Product Research and Development Department. She finds all the necessary information for innovative products and works to implement new ideas for the company. She was born in Norman, grew up in Venezuela then returned to Oklahoma to attend the University of Oklahoma. That’s where she met her husband, Efren Pico. The couple has four kids between the ages of 6 months and 13 years.

MFM: What are your thoughts about being a woman in a STEAM field?

MR: I really had no option because my mom is an industrial engineer, my dad is a computer science engineer, my grandpa is a petroleum engineer and my grand uncle is a chemical engineer. However, I love the technical and interpersonal challenge the STEAM field brings me. 

MFM: Have your kids shown any interest in what you do for work?

MR: Yes. I had the opportunity to work with wind turbines when I managed the OG&E wind farm sites in Northwest Oklahoma. During that time, my oldest daughter developed a fascination with robots and the language utilized to operate mechanical equipment. From there, she got involved in the robotics team at school and other extracurricular activities that are STEAM-related. 

MFM: Do you think it’s important for kids to learn about STEAM-related topics?

MR: Yes. In general, kids should acquire knowledge on all STEAM topics, then they can find what they love to do and what they are good at, as well as what skill they would like to develop or what particular topic interests them to explore in detail.

MFM: What can parents who do not have an educational background in STEAM subjects do to encourage their kids to learn more about the subjects? 

MR: I encourage parents to do puzzles, Legos and painting with their kids. These activities increase kids’ problem-solving, innovation and creativity. As a parent, we always want the best for our kids and most times, kids don’t know what is the best for them. We need to explore and help kids find their God-given talents, abilities and skills to see what options we can open for them as a career. Parents can always reach out to school organizations, public libraries resources or school counselors to obtain career options.

On the next page, meet Cristi Killian of OG&E.

 

Cristi Killian is OG&E’s manager of Advanced Grid and Planning. She manages a group of engineers and keeps an eye to the future of the utility business in the area of technology. Her husband, Kelly, is an electrical engineer and the couple has two sons—4-year-old Lincoln and 7-year-old Jackson.

MFM: What are your thoughts about being a woman in a STEAM field?

CK: I enjoy working in a technical field. Specifically the innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving this field requires.

MFM: Have your kids shown any interest in what you do for work?

CK: They are still young to show preference but they definitely enjoy building and designing Lego projects, robots, circuits and they love solving Rubik's cubes.

MFM: Do you think it’s important for kids to learn about STEAM-related topics? Why?

CK: Yes, I believe it exercises and engages a different portion of the brain and helps develop critical thinking which is used in every area of your life.

MFM: Do you do anything special to encourage their interest in STEAM?

CK: We look for STEM toys and projects. We work to ensure the toys our children are playing with are educational and help engage them in science, technology and mathematics. We also work to balance our engagement with them in these projects so they can go through the process of working through the full scope of the project without feeling the need to ask us for help. This encourages them to think independently and creatively without boundaries.

MFM: What can parents who do not have an educational background in STEAM subjects do to encourage their kids to learn more about the subjects?

CK: There are so many camps and activities available today to our kids. We are often focused on sports and arts, forgetting to add in the equally-valuable time in the area of STEM.

On the next page, meet Alicia Little of Enable Midstream Partners.

 

Alicia Little is a Sr. Project Engineer at Enable Midstream Partners where she runs projects in the midstream industry. Alicia’s husband, Adrian, is an engineer at Avara Pharmaceuticals. The couple has a 3-year-old daughter, Ava.

MFM: Do you think it’s important for kids to learn about STEAM-related topics? Why?

AL: Definitely! I was not a naturally “smart” kid in science and math but I loved the challenge of school and homework and the feeling of accomplishment when I completed tough homework assignments. I think kids, (and parents), get too caught up in “What am I good at?” or “What is my passion?” when picking a degree. I’ve told many curious kids that a degree in a STEAM field is a paper that gives you job security for life and it can be applied to any field. 

MFM: Do you do anything special to encourage Ava’s interest in STEAM?

AL: We just try to feed her natural curiosity. My husband and I are constantly working on projects around the house and she is always in the mix. We have horses, a dog and cats and she has helped me for the last two years with feed time. She helps me clean out the stall for her pony. She loves helping us with garden projects around the house and loves picking wild flowers. So maybe we have a future veterinarian or botanist?

My husband has a project truck that he has been working on for the last couple of years. When she was smaller, he would give her tools, (a screwdriver, small hammer, etc.) and give her a piece of wood to tinker around with while he worked. She would stay out in the garage with him for hours. They were working on body work and sanding last weekend. We like to let her help.

MFM: What can parents who do not have an educational background in STEAM subjects do to encourage their kids to learn more about the subjects?

AL: Honestly, I think it’s a process of showing kids how the real world works and what is required to go after what you want. I think it helps to figure out what makes your kids tick. My parents did not have an educational background in STEAM subjects. Neither of them went to college.  But I was interested in cars and had fallen in love with my Dad’s 1979 Corvette. Instead of telling me “no way,” as I think most parents would have, my Dad encouraged my budding passion and let me make payments and earn the car. When the car needed maintenance, he would make a deal with me that I would be responsible for purchasing the parts and he would help me by providing the labor. I was clueless, but I think this gave me an appreciation for how things work mechanically, as well as a desire to learn more. 

Also, I think a big part of STEAM subjects is the problem-solving aspect. You are not required to memorize a ton of formulas or calculations as an adult. An employer just wants to be able to give you a project, (i.e. problem), and have you start working on the solution. I think you can encourage this way of thinking with your kids by letting them have responsibilities around the house, as well as patiently letting them work through figuring out those day-to-day activities. 

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