STEMfems on a Mission: Women Engineers as Role Models for Middle School Girls
Meet Senior Engineer Brielle Cash, Engineer Leila Shwayhat and Project Scientist Melissa Grocki – the driving force behind Loureiro’s ongoing movement to introduce girls to careers in engineering through a partnership with the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, a Hartford-based educational outreach organization whose mission is to honor the achievement of Connecticut women, preserve their stories, educate the public and inspire the continued achievements of women and girls.
Coincidentally, Cash, Shwayhat and Grocki joined Loureiro at the same time – approximately three years ago upon graduation from college.
Leila Shwayhat studied Environmental Engineering at the University of Connecticut. In her role at Loureiro, she is responsible for in-the-field soil and sediment sampling and the corresponding in-the-office work.
“I always knew I wanted to do something environmentally-related, but I never heard about environmental engineering as a career path. I was flipping through a book of majors during my senior year in high school and stumbled upon it. The hands-on aspect – solving problems and seeing tangible results – was appealing to me,” she recounts.
Melissa Grocki studied Environmental Science and Policy at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She now spends her days preparing environmental compliance and emergency response reports for Loureiro’s Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) division, which has her working for various private sector clients throughout the region.
“I didn’t declare a major until I was a sophomore in college. I took a few environmental awareness courses and found that I really clicked with the people in those classes,” she describes. “The more I learned, the more I came to understand the connection between environmental science and climate change. This makes the field so relevant to me – particularly studying in Texas where I witnessed natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey firsthand. I wanted to choose a meaningful career and not just a paycheck.”
Brielle Cash majored in chemical engineering and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. She works in Loureiro’s environmental engineering division on industrial wastewater treatment system design and contaminated environmental media remediation projects.
“A lot of freshmen in college had parents that were in the engineering field. Personally, I didn’t know anyone or anything about it,” she states. “I was talking with my dad about picking a school and declaring a major and he suggested engineering based on the fact that I liked chemistry and math. I quickly learned that engineering is a field through which you can help people and make positive change.”
The Emergence of Loureiro’s #STEMfems
CEO Brian Cutler has a longstanding relationship with Deb Geyer, Vice President, Environment, Health, Safety and Corporate Social Responsibility at Stanley Black & Decker and Trustee at the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. He was approached in 2019 to be a partnering organization in support of the Hall’s mission to educate and inspire girls by introducing women engineers as role models for middle school aged girls to encourage careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields – a mission that resonates deeply with Loureiro.
“Women have been historically underrepresented in STEM. By inspiring and investing in girls at this age, the Hall is making an invaluable contribution to creating a more diverse workforce,” states Cutler. “As we look toward the future at our firm, we will be intentional in our efforts to create and celebrate our diversity because it leads to a more complete understanding of the problems we tackle and ultimately yields better solutions for our clients.”
Loureiro stepped up to the plate and assembled a core internal group, spearheaded by Cash, Shwayhat and Grocki, to lead what became dubbed the “STEMfems” outreach initiative.
“We did some in-person wastewater demonstrations at Manchester High School and at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport before COVID,” said Shwayhat. “Given the social distancing requirements associated with the pandemic, we put together a virtual event focused on sustainability at Tolland Middle School,” she continued. “Even though the presentation was conducted online, we still shared a video demonstration which allowed for some back and forth.”
“Middle school is a good time to get the concept to stick with the students,” stated Grocki. “High school may be a little too late, and elementary school a little too early. This is the sweet spot – where we have the attention of a captive audience.”
Stories from the Trenches
The work that Cash, Shwayhat and Grocki are putting in is nothing short of rewarding.
“I remember a girl in one of the Q&A sessions expressing some frustrations about not being able to join a sports team,” recounts Cash. “Melissa (Grocki) jumped in and shared a similar personal story as a way of connecting, relating, and reminding her of the fact that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
“That right there is the message,” adds Grocki. “This theme has been recurring in other Q&A discussions as well. When we get to the questions at the end, you can tell the girls are engaged.”
“We start talking about climate change, for example, and you’d be amazed to see how caring and understanding kids are at such a young age. They know more than you anticipate, and they get the issues we’re up against. It’s inspiring to us as well,” said Shwayhat.
What’s Next for the STEMfems
When polled, Cash, Shwayhat and Grocki couldn’t recall this type of outreach and exposure to the fields of science, math, technology and specifically – engineering – during their middle school years. For this reason, they remain dedicated to prioritizing in-person and virtual presentations to educate and inspire influential young girls.
Our next virtual STEMfems event is scheduled for April 7, 2021, and the Loureiro team looks forward to working with the Hall to arrange future demonstrations to 6th, 7th and 8th grade students throughout Connecticut.
Interested in learning more? Connect with the three remarkable engineers interviewed for this story and get familiar with the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.
*Photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic