Lisa Wong, a former Raytheon engineer-turned-teacher at Trinity Christian Academy (TCA) in Addison, has been encouraging girls to get involved in STEM for years, while also finding ways for her engineering students to give back to the local community and put their skills to good use to design and develop useful tools for children with special needs.
Wong’s passion for STEM dates back to her college years, when she was involved in The Society of Women Engineers (SWE). For more than 20 years, Wong has been mentoring women who are beginning their careers in the engineering field or are pursuing a STEM curriculum in college. She has experience working to encourage, mentor and foster an interest in engineering in the next generation, with hopes of creating a more female populated environment in the STEM fields.
Not only is she inspiring more female students to pursue a career in engineering, but also Wong is inspiring all of her engineering students to utilize their engineering skills as a way to give back. She has tasked students in her senior-level engineering class to design, develop and test devices/tools to help people with special needs as their final project. She says that these projects not only help the children/families by giving them useful tools/devices that don’t exist in the marketplace, but also, they teach her students that engineering skills can be used to improve the lives of those in the community.
While Wong wasn’t able to have her students design projects for the community last year due to the pandemic, she still found a way for them to put their skills to good use. She pivoted to assign her students to create prototypes for tools that could be practically applied in the fight against COVID-19 – the catch was the design had to cost less than $20 and be made from items students already had in their homes. From a personal, touchless door opener and hand sanitizer holder for a car vent, to a social distancing stick, students were still challenged to create tools/designs that can be used in the real world and go through the entire design process to develop a functional device.
Her passion for STEM helped drive TCA to create a Lower School STEM Lab back in 2018. Each student in grades K-4 is provided opportunities for hands-on inquiry, exploration and discovery with the goal of helping children shift from solely being consumers of technology, to becoming creators.
March is both Women’s History Month and Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science and Engineering Month, so we caught up with Wong, Director of Technology at TCA, to learn more about her passion for encouraging women to get involved in the male-dominated STEM field. Read our Q&A below.
Q: Why are you passionate about helping women overcome the challenges in the STEM field?
A: “Our world needs more women in STEM. I want to encourage them to not give up, and to remind them of the value they bring to innovation in our world. I truly believe women tend to look at issues and concepts differently than men. It is a beautiful thing when an amazing product or process is invented from true collaboration from different viewpoints.
I believe that encouraging girls to go into STEM fields starts at the elementary age. This is why I started the TCA STEM Club for 3rd and 4th graders several years ago. The program was so popular that lower school technology class was converted to a STEM Lab. Now all students from PreK-4th grade are able to go STEM Lab each week. This is so exciting!
I faced many challenges in my career as a young woman engineer, and there were many times I wondered if I should quit. There is no way I would have pulled through without the mentors in my life. Mentors have helped encourage me, kept me accountable, and helped me process big decisions.”
Q: What difficulties have you faced in your career as a woman?
A: “I have faced many difficulties, especially as a young female engineer in the early ‘90s in the defense industry working on missiles. In my graduating class of 300, I was one of only 3 women. There were only a few women in my field, and I had to really prove to my peers that I brought value to the table. I faced many obstacles such as people assuming I was the administrative assistant and asking me to bring them coffee, or having my requests be ignored by the prototype machine shop where I delivered my designs. Those were some tough years but with a lot of hard work, strong collaboration skills and having a wonderful mentor, I was able to get through with success.”
Q: What do you hope your female students will learn/achieve?
A: “I hope my female students will learn that they do not need to be the top student in their math and science classes to be an engineer. As long as they are passionate about innovation, out-of-the-box thinkers, hard workers, and perseverant learners of math and science, then they can be engineers. Engineering is all about problem solving to create or improve new products/processes. So much of it is about creativity!
It is so exciting to catch up with students who are now accepting positions and working in the engineering industry! It has been a blessing to see what students have achieved.”
We are so thankful for Wong’s positive influence on our students and our community of Addison. Keep up the good work!