“The younger generation is looking to us and we need to be the role models they deserve.”

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Upcoming senior Brooklynn Byford is a Tennessee native who’s fascination with the ocean brought her to the East Coast to study ocean engineering. Her positive and go-getter attitude helps her overcome the stigma of women in STEM fields and encourages the younger generation to do the same.

Byford team’s remotely operated sea crawler won Best in Show in Ocean Engineering at the 2016 Northrop Grumman Engineering & Science Student Design Showcase. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a junior majoring in ocean engineering and I am from a very small town in Tennessee. Most people look at me funny when they hear this and ask me how I even heard of ocean engineering when there is no “ocean” near me. I have a deep fascination with the underwater world and all the exciting adventures and possibilities that it holds. I also love to take things apart and see how they work. Putting those two things together lead me to ocean engineering! When I found Florida Tech, it was as if I was finding a home away from home. So I strapped on my boots, headed down to the Sunshine State and here I am now. During my time here, I’ve been able to be explore the wonderful areas of my major and have been able to get an understanding on what direction I want to steer my career. My dream is to be able to help innovate more sustainable ways of harnessing the ocean’s energy along with helping design sufficient means of underwater exploration. During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I completed my senior design project with three teammates on the enhancement of the fifth generation of the remotely operated sea crawler (ROSCoV) that is designed for unmanned, underwater exploration and our project won 2016’s Best in Show in Ocean Engineering at Florida Tech’s student design showcase. I loved working on this project because it involved every aspect of my major and helped me narrow my field of interest. It made me realize the need for further advancements in exploration of the underwater world as little is known about our oceans.

I’m also actively involved in other parts of Florida Tech. During my time here at Florida Tech, I have served as Secretary and President of the Marine Technology Society and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Vice President of Campus Affairs and am the current President for Alpha Phi Sorority. I am an Orientation Panther Prep Leader and twice running Orientation Lead Staff Student Coordinator. I am also AAUS dive certified.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?

I had a vision and a dream of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I was passionate about the ocean. At the time, I didn’t know the extent of what I wanted to do with my career, but I have always been mesmerized by the mysteriously unknown underwater world and I’ve always been passionate about finding ways to preserve its beauty.

What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?

I feel that the largest and most common challenge women in STEM come across is being treated equally. There are often times when a women’s voice, opinion, or idea is the last to be heard and considered. When this happens to women, they recognize it and see that they aren’t held to the same standards as their male counterparts and this can dramatically decrease all levels of confidence. We often feel as if we aren’t being taken seriously and this can be extremely frustrating. We often limit ourselves and our abilities in fear of this. I find that there is a fine line between being a strong, empowering woman and being labeled as too aggressive. Women have to strive harder to find this balance and are constantly strategically altering themselves to maintain it. We work five times harder only to get to the same level.

How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?

The obstacles that women face in STEM are real and at some point, every woman will face them. How you react to these obstacles is what really matters! I am a very competitive person and I take these obstacles as a challenge to better myself and as motivation to become the best that I can be. This often means going the extra mile, putting in more effort, and being the most prepared, but I realize that I will become a better version of myself because of this. I strive to jump at every opportunity that is thrown my way and I always look for the positive in all situations I encounter. I also try to remember that standing out isn’t a bad thing and I can work it to my advantage. I understand that everyone I come across has something to give so I give everyone I meet the same respect that I seek.

Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?

Go for it! Don’t let the biases and expectations of society limit you in your journey to achieving your dreams. Yes, it will be hard at times but you will experience empowering things and learn valuable key lessons that will push you to that next level. Set your own standards and break those expectations. Throw yourself into everything with your head held high.

What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?

If there is something you want to do, do it! Give it your all every single time. Don’t be discouraged or afraid to go after your dreams and aspirations. The road can be rough at times, but it makes reaching your dreams that much more rewarding. There are so many wonderful things to experience and learn so I encourage you to go out there and give it 100%.

What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?

For the first time, I felt the stigma of being a woman in a male-dominated environment. I was a minority in a very competitive school and questioned my ability to rise up to the challenge. However, I was surprised to find the amount of supportive and empowering influences I would meet along the way. There is an entire network of hardworking, diligent, and inspiring women in the STEM community who truly believe in you and understand the challenges that are associated with being a woman in STEM.

In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?

More STEM related programs offered at a younger age will help introduce the point that there is a vast amount of opportunities available to them. I feel the issue is the lack of knowledge about STEM related fields. By reaching out to them at a young age, they can have a better idea of what is out there and how to direct their talents. Also, leading by example can send a powerful message. I know this because I have two younger sisters that look to me in everything they do and I understand the importance of serving as a positive, empowering influence for them. Both men and women need to work on breaking the stigma associated with women in STEM. This shows younger girls that these subjects and fields are easily within reach. The younger generation is looking to us and we need to be the role models they deserve.

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