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How Women in STEM Become Role Models

Caroline Reynolds was the only woman chemical engineer in the room for most of her career. The 77-year-old from Austin, Texas, encourages women working in STEM fields to participate in their communities. She sees this action as one of the best ways to connect with girls considering what they want to be when they grow up.

Wondering where to start? Reynolds shares some suggestions.  

Show your expertise in the classroom. For second-graders, Reynolds gave a magnet demonstration. At the middle school level, a teacher asked her to offer a five-day course on the environment, which included a discussion on chemical carcinogenesis.

Working with a teacher, start a Science and Engineering Club. This gives students a chance to explore hands-on activities based on their interests rather than strictly following assignments in the classroom.  

Reynolds used what she knew – handling money and tools – to become the treasurer and repair chairperson at her son’s nursery school. She later became an officer in the PTA.

Science Fairs
For many years, Reynolds has worked at schools to encourage and support students to enter Austin science fairs.

“Don’t expect miracles, but expect to see the number of students slowly increase, and some will win awards,” she says. “The best part is seeing them proudly standing with their project and explaining it to the judge.”

Girl Scouts
At her local council, Reynolds created a day-long engineering workshop, ending with the University of Texas traveling science show called The Physics Circus. Her reward? Hearing a leader say, “I just realized that I could have been an engineer.” Reynolds replied, “You still could be.”

Reynolds also created a patch girls can earn by teaching a skill learned at the workshop to another troop. The patch features a bridge that required work by civil, chemical, mechanical and other engineers.

To keep young women working toward their professional goals, Reynolds suggests helping a university’s student retention program and at summer STEM camps.

Professional Organizations
The American Institute of Chemical Engineers provides Reynolds and other members with community volunteer opportunities. As one example, she has judged and cheered on student participants in chemical engineering car-building contests.

“No community activity is too small or unimportant,” Reynolds says. “You are a model for a child or an adult to know what a woman engineer can do.”  

Caroline Reynolds’ experience includes, among other roles, performing environmental site assessments and developing health and safety programs. She has a master’s in chemical engineering and a master's in chemistry from the University of Texas. Reynolds earned a bachelor's in chemistry from Rice University.