U.S. Army event offers young women insight on engineering careers

By Ed Lopez, Picatinny Arsenal Public AffairsMarch 5, 2024

Army event exposes young women to engineering careers
Dozens of young women from 30 area high schools came to Picatinny Arsenal on Feb. 22 for an “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” event, which is designed to increase the number of young women in STEM fields by exposing them to the broad range of engineering applications. About 50 female scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army installation were on hand to describe their work and answer any questions related to engineering careers. Pictured above, Tanya Busayadilok, who has several engineering specialties, describes to students the science behind a Gatling-style rotary cannon. (Photo Credit: Jesse Glass ) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – Dozens of young women from area high schools converged on the U.S. Army installation here on Feb. 22, part of an annual event designed to increase the number of female engineers by providing students with a broad view of career opportunities.

The “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” event attracted about 130 students from 30 high schools. Attendees had an opportunity to meet and discuss STEM topics with some of the nation’s top engineers and scientists who are focused on designing and developing the next generation of U.S. Army armament systems.

Picatinny Arsenal is home to the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center, one of the Army’s premier research and development facilities, employing thousands of workers in technical fields. About 80 engineers, 50 of them female, from across Picatinny organizations were on hand to discuss various engineering disciplines and how they are applied to products across 21 topic areas.

Three women who spoke at the event, now career engineers who themselves once attended the annual event, described different paths to their current jobs.

Anne Marie Petrock, now the Senior Research Scientist for Warhead Technologies at the Armaments Center, attended the very first Introduce a Girl to Engineering event, saying it was nowhere near as organized at it is now.

“My background is a little bit weird,” Petrock said, describing her degree in electrical engineering and two degrees in biomedical engineering. “And yet, somehow, I ended up focusing on the chemistry of explosives and the material science of warheads,” she said.

“I say that because, as you’re here tonight, take advantage of everything that is here, understand that engineering is what you want to make of it.” Petrock added that being an Army engineer provides an added layer of excitement, a way to give back and be part of something bigger.

Two other speakers, Sarah Schilling and Krista Grassano, attended the event eight years ago as high school students. But their trajectories into an engineering career varied.

Grassano, a materials science engineer with Booz Allen Hamilton, a government and military contractor, was not particularly enthusiastic when her engineer father at Picatinny suggested attending the event.

“’Come on, we don’t have to stay long, let’s just go and see what you think,’” she remembers her father saying. He managed to convince her to attend. Looking back, Grassano said, she is glad she made the trip.

“I had the best time,” she recalls. “They basically had to kick us out, we were like the last people here. I met so many smart women with cool jobs. They opened my eyes to the exciting world of engineering and all the different areas, opportunities and possibilities. I came home so energized that I went to the school counselor the next day to get a track for engineering.”

Grassano said she always enjoyed math and sciences and participated in STEM robotics and STEM camps at Picatinny over the years. All her coursework in high schools and at Virginia Tech provided a helpful foundation, leading to an internship at Booze Allen and eventually a full-time job.

For Schilling, an electrical engineer at the Armaments Center, the path to engineering took longer to take shape.

“I can’t say that Introduce a Girl to Engineering night suddenly told me what major I wanted to study or what job I wanted to have when I graduated,” Schilling said. “But it did show me how broad and diverse engineering is, and it also showed me that being a woman didn’t stop any of the ladies here from becoming engineers and having very successful careers.”

Schilling noted that engineering may initially seem mystical, highly technical and even intimidating. “But at the end of the day engineering is just problem-solving,” she added.

At the most recent event, Kristina Herman, a student at Morris Catholic High School, was exploring different options. “I really want to learn more about different types of STEM work and engineering specifically,” she said. “I like how you kind of have freedom of design but some structure to it. I like the idea of building and designing things.”

Laeticia Fayette, a student at West Orange High School, said she was encouraged to attend by a high school teacher, who told Fayette that she would meet lots of women who would help guide her decisions.

“I really like to solve problems and put things together,” she said. “Engineering, I found it the perfect match for me because I like science and prefer math over English.”

Mickaela O’Grady, a student at Jefferson Township High School, participates in various projects through the STEM academy at her school. “Robotics is an interesting subject to me,” she said. “I am interested in animation, so maybe it can be applied to robotics in some way.”

“It’s important to have an outreach event like this to help cultivate the next generation of workforce talent, especially among females, who have been under-represented in engineering fields,” explained Samuel Joisil, event co-organizer and leader of the Picatinny STEM Outreach Program.