Engineer Urges Girls To Smash Stereotypes

September 8, 2014 8:00 AM

Photo Credit Thinkstock

Photo Credit Thinkstock

This article is supplied by Raytheon

The painted line on the playground made the boundaries clear: Girls on one side, boys on the other. Anybody who crossed got a detention.

That was the rule at Karen Kalil-Brown’s elementary school decades ago. The gender barrier didn’t make sense to Kalil-Brown – and she’s been crossing such lines ever since.

“I have four brothers. Boys didn’t intimidate me. Never did,” Kalil-Brown, now one of the top troubleshooters at Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Company, said. “I never felt like boys were smarter than me.”

And neither should the young women of today, Kalil-Brown told a group of girls in an honors math class at TechBoston Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

The visit was aimed at encouraging young women to study engineering and diversify the U.S. workforce in the field.

Today’s students have more reasons than ever to care about engineering and far better tools to study it than the gender-barrier-breaking women engineers of the Apollo era, Kalil-Brown said.

“The power in your cell phone, the computing power, the processing power, is bigger and better than what we put on those rocket ships,” she said. “The sky is the limit for what you can do.”

Kalil-Brown, who joined Raytheon in 1980, played a role in several of the company’s key products, including the AN/TPY-2 mobile radar, which scans the skies for incoming ballistic missiles; the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, which destroys those threats as they hurtle through space; and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, best known for its role protecting the Washington, D.C. area.

Kalil-Brown also told the students about Raytheon’s successful 2008 mission to destroy an errant satellite as it plummeted toward the Earth.

The company, working with the federal government, modified its Standard Missile-3 to track and destroy the satellite, which was moving at more than 17,000 mph, 150 miles above the Pacific Ocean.

“What Raytheon was able to do was to track the path of that satellite to determine the optimal position, the best position, where we would have the greatest possibility of shooting it down before the debris came down and hurt a very populated area,” she said.

Kalil-Brown is now part of the Raytheon Company Evaluation Team, which advises managers on an array of programs across the company.

Her chat resonated with sophomore Isis Rivera, 16, who said women shouldn’t feel intimidated to study math and science.

“It’s nice to hear that women are up there and doing jobs that are stereotypically for men,” Rivera said. “She’s the little voice in your head saying, ‘You could do better things with your life.’”

Kimi Medeiros, who teaches the TechBoston class, said Kalil-Brown’s chat with the students drove home a point she tries to make every day: No matter what you do, math matters.

“So often, I say to the kids, they’re going to be using this later,” she said. “It helps them realize the math they’re learning now will come in handy.”

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