How a Lockheed Engineer Makes Time to Volunteer with Girls
As an aerospace engineer, Alison Nordt’s job usually has her working on infrared cameras and space telescopes. But for one week every summer, you’ll find her at her alma mater working with rolled-up newspaper and uncooked spaghetti noodles.
Nordt, a graduate of Stanford University with a doctorate in aeronautic engineering, has worked at Lockheed Martin since 1999. She is one of hundreds of women who volunteer each summer at AAUW Tech Trek camps. Held on college campuses across the country, Tech Trek camps reach 1,400 middle school girls annually and encourage girls’ passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Lockheed Martin is a national sponsor of Tech Trek and helps support the program’s goal to change the face of STEM by narrowing the gender gap in these fields. The company provides special support to Tech Trek camp locations near local Lockheed Martin facilities, including camps at the University of Alabama, Huntsville; Stockton College in New Jersey; New Mexico Tech University; and two camp sessions at Stanford University.
At Tech Trek, Nordt uses the rolled-up newspaper and uncooked spaghetti noodles to facilitate a hands-on workshop that teaches teams of girls the basics of civil engineering. The workshop focuses on understanding structures, but Nordt stresses to the girls that interpersonal skills are also integral to their success. “Working as a team and learning to brainstorm as a team are how you get things done,” she reminds the girls before letting them tackle their projects.
Echoing conclusions from AAUW’s 2015 research report Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing, Nordt finds mentoring especially important for girls interested in STEM — and, as a mother to a daughter and a son, she also works to expose boys to female STEM role models to demonstrate that women can and do succeed in STEM.
Nordt isn’t new to the more-women-in-STEM mission. She has volunteered at Tech Trek’s Stanford camp since 2012, a commitment made possible in part by Lockheed Martin’s work to encourage greater diversity in STEM. The company demonstrated its commitment to promoting diversity when it chose Marillyn Hewson as its chief executive officer, thereby joining the mere 5 percent of companies in Standard and Poor’s 500 index with female CEOs. Lockheed Martin’s culture of employee volunteerism and flexible work schedules — one of the primary recommendations for employers from AAUW’s 2016 report Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership — also make it easy for Nordt to get out of the lab and spend a morning mentoring and teaching.
When she isn’t building bridges and skyscrapers at Tech Trek, Nordt works as the head Lockheed Martin engineer on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope, NASA’s largest science mission ever, will launch in 2018 and is designed to look back in time to discover the origins of the first light in the universe. This complex cryogenic instrument is the result of years of hard work by Nordt and her co-workers at Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, California.
With more dedicated volunteers like Alison, we can hope to see more girls than ever grow up to be aerospace engineers, astronauts, and tech company CEOs.
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Girls find their passion for high-tech careers at AAUW’s Tech Trek camps.
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