Colleen Matthews

Supervisory Patent Examiner

"Seek out mentors and relationships with people who are likeminded and, perhaps more importantly, with people who see and approach things in a different way from you."

What is your view on the importance of women entering STEM fields?

I think it is important for not just women but for everyone to consider the opportunity of entering STEM fields to help prepare us to continue our technological advancements as well as deal with challenges faced by the country and the world.

What inspired you to enter a STEM field?

I enjoyed math and science classes in high school and entering my junior year of high school when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I’m pretty sure I  envisioned a future career as a math or science teacher. My interest in being a math or science teacher was partially due to enjoying the subject matter but also partially due to the fact that I had exposure to see what teachers are doing everyday - as a result I had an idea of what might be involved in that type of career.

After my junior year of high school I attended a program called the New Jersey Governors School in the Sciences at Drew University. During this program I met many other students who also enjoyed math and science and were interested in pursuing careers as engineers and scientists. At that time I did not have exposure to seeing what engineers were doing everyday – I did not have any understanding what an engineer did for a career – in fact it seemed very unclear and mysterious. Attending the Governors School and meeting people interested in being engineers prompted me to start asking questions. As it turned out a lot of my family members – my grandfather, a few uncles and even one of my aunts were engineers. As I learned more about engineering I became more interested in the field because as I learned how engineers use math and science to solve problems.

What advice would you have for young girls and women starting out their careers in STEM?

Find mentors and build relationships. Seek out mentors and relationships with people who are likeminded and, perhaps more importantly, with people who see and approach things in a different way from you. Mentoring can be in a formal program but do not feel restricted to only building relationships in a formal setting. Building relationships and learning from both your peers and others with more experience in the field can be invaluable.

Participate in support networks. Being involved in support networks can be very fulfilling because the people involved have shared interests and shared experiences. In college both the Women in Engineering Program at Penn State and Phi Sigma Rho sorority, a national sorority for women in engineering, were huge components of my life. Both programs provided me with substantial leadership experiences and helped me gain confidence. Additionally they helped me develop skill sets beyond the books, beyond math and science, and those skill sets can be just as important as the technical skill sets to succeed in STEM careers.

Find people who believe in you. My parents, I’m sure like many others, have always been my biggest cheerleaders and their unwavering support has helped me through setbacks and through success. But I have also had teachers, professors, senior engineers, and peers who have provided me with encouragement in difficult times and have also celebrated with me in good times. And do not be intimidated by anyone, man or woman, who gives you a skeptical glance regarding your choice to pursue a STEM career.