Women in Tech Month: MassRobotics Internship Program Visits Chelmsford

The next generation of Women in Tech were given an incredible hands-on learning opportunity recently in our Chelmsford office, which hosted the MassRobotics Jumpstart Fellowship Program on one of their field trip days. The MassRobotics program connects high school participants with tech companies throughout the Boston, Massachusetts area, organizing field trips and learning excursions “designed to encourage and empower diverse high school girls to pursue careers in robotics by giving them a solid foundation of technical skills as well as mentors and a professional network.” As a leading innovative force in the area, the Teledyne FLIR Defense Chelmsford branch brought in the cohorts to hear from our outstanding engineers and get some hands-on time with the unmanned ground systems.

Before getting a chance to operate the units, the MassRobotics interns received words of encouragement and wisdom from women engineers within USNA, representing a wide arrange of experience in STEM and at various stages of their careers: recent graduates, current PhD students, and established leaders. Valery Fercho (Director of Engineering), Susan Macchia (Sr. Manager of Software Engineering), Monika Pesa (Software Engineer), Mary Winslow (Sr. Manufacturing Engineer) and Olivia Truslow (Mechanical Engineer) all gave a brief overview of their experiences, including what advice they’d give themselves at the group’s age from their current perspectives.

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“I would have tried for a computer science degree of some kind,” said Macchia, who studied psychology before going on to software and programming. “There were no women in the engineering program in 1977. It was intimidating and I was always told by my professors that, ‘no you’re not smart enough,’ which is totally not true, in every respect. Once I transferred to UMass Amherst and started taking math and engineering classes, I realized it was definitely the right place for me. I took a programming class elective, and it was easy and enjoyable and I realized, I’m going to keep going with this. That’s how my career started, combining with psychology which has helped me focus on user experience, interfaces, applications frameworks, and architectures, putting my left and right brain together. Remember that right now you’re just starting your careers and educational journeys, and you don’t need to pick what you want to do right now for the rest of your life. You can always switch and change.”

“Going off that, I wouldn’t have listened to those people in high school telling me I wasn’t good enough at math,” added Truslow. “Engineering isn’t done in a vacuum. You’re never by yourself in a corner. You’re not taking a test where you’re not allowed to use your calculator and do it all by hand. Your test scores don’t define who you are as an engineer. If you run into a problem in your job, you can talk to one of the other engineers and we can talk it out. You always have a community around you, and have people to support you and talk through problems with.”

“I would say to truly value yourself,” encouraged Fercho. “Know your worth. By the time you reach your first job, you’ve gotten your degree. You’ve checked many boxes. Maybe your first job isn’t your dream position or what you want to do forever, but focus on doing it well, on learning from the experience, and keep moving forward. Know that you matter and take the important things from each opportunity as it comes your way. 

“Now that I work with a team that I love in a role that challenges me,” she continued, “I can say that in addition to getting to work on products that I find exciting, I truly enjoy collaborating with other passionate, intelligent people, who really do want to help and solve problems together. That’s where I get a lot of job satisfaction, and it’s worth pushing through any early challenges to get here.”

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One of the most satisfying feelings I get from my job, in addition to working on exciting projects, is collaborating with other passionate, intelligent people.

The afternoon concluded with the interns participating in robot operations, helping the PackBot to pick up a can of soda and chasing each other around the room with the pair of FirstLooks.

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They also spent some time in the Hall of Fame viewing early prototypes and seeing photos of the technology saving lives, every day. It was all a remarkable way to help students visualize their own careers, and understand the impact their aspirations could make on the rest of the world. A special thanks to the Chelmsford office for making this event possible for the MassRobotics cohort.

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