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Women In Comms

UNH-IOL Director on Plugfests & Career Pivots

WiC: How do you stay on top of technology trends and balance cutting-edge technology with business interests?

EJ: I try to surround myself with smart people who inspire me. The industry is constantly changing and it’s near impossible to have all the information that you need at the exact time you need it. I rely heavily on my professional staff and industry mentors to get the latest information about the multiple technical industries we serve or new areas of technology that we should be serving.

With that, I aim to make informed decisions about the direction of the lab. I operate a fairly flat organization so we can be dynamic and fast moving if the need arises. Since we are customer driven, we must evolve and adapt to new technology testing requirements and utilize the latest technology trends for our internal operations or development. For example, we recently embarked on our Agile development journey last year with a goal for all of our development teams to transition. It is critical for us to stay on top of new technology trends for both our business and student missions.

WiC: What makes you feel optimistic about the future of our industry and women's role in it in light of your work with engineering students today?

EJ: The number of opportunities for K-12 STEM education and specifically for girls has grown so much over the last ten years that it makes me excited about the possibilities for our future in the tech industry. For example, HighTech Bound is a program that I run at the lab which provides a summer internship experience for high-school students. I feel passionate about opening new doors and experiences for younger students before they start thinking about pathways or careers.

This specific program is a hands-on employment opportunity where interns work on industry-related projects in new technologies like the Internet of Things and software-defined networking. They work alongside UNH student mentors for six weeks who expose them to software development and engineering techniques -- mostly in areas they aren’t even familiar with yet.

This past summer, 33% of our high-school interns were young women who brought so much talent to the program. They were leading their projects and expanding their development roles by the end of the program. I’m so impressed with how much these young students have been exposed to and their motivation to learn something new and take advantage of every opportunity. This program and our recruitment efforts with UNH Admission helps us to grow a strong and healthy workforce as students and women enter college. We now have a growing number of female students at the IOL, but it’s still not yet where we would like it to be.

WiC: What is your biggest piece of personal advice for the next generation of engineers and technologists as they prepare to enter the workforce?

EJ: Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to pivot or take advantage of new opportunities. There will be moments in anyone’s career that will leave you unsure or uncomfortable -- that is natural! The ability to work through those moments and continuously improve your position comes with experience. It might be necessary to completely change directions or try something new. I find that as long as you are true to yourself and have an understanding of what makes you happy, you can’t go wrong.

Lastly -- build a support system for not only yourself but for others as well. Having positive work relationships and mentors will give you the confidence to keep moving forward.

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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