Marissa Birmingham may be recongized by her gorgeous long locks; nevertheless, she is an inspiring and talented young woman. Pursuing a degree in a predominately male-dominated field, Marissa has learned about life balance through her go-to hobby of music and spending time with her girlfriends. She is in the Honors Program and attended the Society for Women's Engineers Conferece this fall. Both situations provided her with life-long friendships, skills and lessons. Read more to find out where and how Marissa draws her strength and encouragement for sucess in the engineering field.
Name: Marissa Birmingham
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
Major: Engineering Management
What/who inspires you in the field of engineering?
Hard question! I would say that I am most inspired by the people I have met through the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics program I was in in high school. At the competitions, all of the judges and referees and many other volunteers who helped the event be successful came from backgrounds in engineering and industry. I always knew I wanted to give back to the program that inspired me to explore science and engineering, and these were the people who were already doing that.
What are some of your hobbies that empower you?
It may seem strange, but music is my go-to hobby. I've always had terrible stage fright, but absolutely loved music. It is not only relaxing and refreshing in stressful times, but it helps me build confidence in front of crowds, or even just in front of peers. I draw on my choir performances to help me stay calm when I'm making presentations in school, and later, in the workplace.
You are the Secretary of the Society for Women's Engineers. What does it feel like to represent young college women hoping to enter into the engineering field?
I hope that by being an active role model, I can inspire younger students to step in and do the same. In SWE, we build networks with professionals and with other engineering students. We talk about issues women face in the workplace, and how to overcome them. I hope that by helping lead this group, more students are better prepared to enter (and stay in) a male-dominated field.
You recently attending a conference for women in engineering. What was the most important lesson you learned?
The national SWE conference was, first of all, amazing. I attended many presentations that taught me so much, ranging from how to best present yourself in the workplace, to how to negotiate salaries. One of the most important lessons I learned came from a panel of nine professionals, who had all been in the same SWE chapter in college. Their current professions ranged from active engineer to stay-at-home mom, and many variations in between. As a senior starting to get more and more nervous about the lack of a post-graduation plan, it was inspiring to hear that there are so many doors that are opened from a start in an engineering field.
You are studying engineering and management. Traditionally, those two fields have been predominately male-dominated. What advice would you give to young women interested in engineering and/or management?
As a student, sometimes I look around and realize that in a class of 57 mechanical engineers, only seven of them are women. But most of the time, I don't really notice that most of the people around me are guys. I guess I've gotten pretty used to it. For those just entering one of these fields, I just suggest trying to make some girlfriends either outside of your day to day classes or from the few girls within them, and just make sure you get some good girl's nights in every now and then to keep life balanced. I don't mind working with guys in nearly all of my classes (and it helps that I take a core class or two every semester, so I'm not always surrounded by guys), and hopefully that will be the case in the work environment too. Guys are just people, it's important to know how to work with them just like anyone else.
How did you get interested in engineering management?
At last, an easy question! I first became interested in engineering management in high school, when I found my niche on our FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team as the General Manager of the team. I was leading the team to be professional and work together. I had very little to do with building the robot itself, but I helped our team function cohesively, and I did a lot of the "behind the scenes" administrative work that made our team successful.
How is your senior year going?
To put it simply, my senior year so far is absolutely fantastic. I got a lot of my harder engineering technical electives out of the way junior year (which was killer), and now I'm taking a nice and light credit load both semesters, focusing on wrapping up core classes and my math minor. I still keep very busy, but I'm less overwhelmed. It'll give me time to work on finding a job.
What is at the top of your bucket list for senior year?
Hmm, bucket list? I'm not sure I have a lot of specific things I want to get done before I graduate. I just want to spend as much time as possible with my friends before we go our different ways!
What is your dream job? Where would you like to work when you graduate?
Engineering management has opened so many doors of possibility to me. It's a very versatile degree. I'm hoping that eventually I'll wind up doing some kind of project management, but maybe I'll get my start in operations, which has been growing on me lately. There isn't a specific company I have in mind yet, but I know that given my choice I'll wind up working somewhere in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I wouldn't have it any other way.