How I Ended Up as a STEM Mentor for a PBS Tween Show

This blog was published on behalf of Orietta Verdugo. Orietta is currently the Technical Assistant and Chief of Staff to IOTG VP Jose Avalos and Operations Manager for Visual Retail. A native to Arizona, Orietta holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University. She received a MBA and M.S. in Engineering Systems from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Growing up, I was not exposed to engineering principles, much less engineers. The thought that women engineers or Latino engineers existed was beyond me, but today I am a proud to be both. When approached with the opportunity to participate in the filming of a Latina community based episode of SciGirls, I was excited to be part of a show for tweens showcasing bright and curious girls and highlighting the role that science and engineering plays in their everyday lives. I was honored to be selected as one of only six mentors nationwide and went on set with a clear mission to broaden the picture of engineers for girls today and show them how much I love my job.

I worked with four amazing young ladies from Chandler High School in Arizona on the “Process Power” episode. They shared with me that they were a part of the all-girls Si Se Puede Foundation Degrees of Freedom Robotics Team and have won awards at SeaPerch and FIRST Robotics competitions locally and regionally. Although the young ladies had been exposed to STEM, I was enthusiastic about sharing my particular interest and expertise in industrial and systems engineering.

These young ladies were faced with a big challenge: help Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank improve the process of the Meals to Grow program that provides backpacks of food to local children. I was eager to teach them about process improvement concepts, which I acquired during from my LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt training. The LEAN concepts were demonstrated through a game with water balloons, where the team was able to use continuous improvement techniques to reduce process times. We also toured a chocolate factory to identify the engineering concepts used by the owners. The girls took this knowledge with them and advised the food bank on how to improve the packing process to serve more children. It was a quite a remarkable transformation. I was excited that not only did these four girls learn something new, but this episode just might have helped a girl watching it see herself as an engineer.

Encouraging minorities and women to pursue their interests in STEM is truly a passion of mine, but I believe it is everyone’s duty to work with students and young people. We can all inspire, motivate, and help them through their journey and show them that they can do it! Today, the world celebrates the Global Day of the Engineer, and I encourage you to take it as an invitation to share your engineering or other professional skills with the next generation. I promise you have something valuable to share. But if nothing else, I hope you’ll share the PBS profile with a curious girl in your life.