STEM Careers: Forensic Engineer

Jonathan McGehee

Jonathan McGehee

Forensic Engineer for VCE Inc.

Graduated from Western Kentucky University

It is amazing when you really think about it. I mean literally everything around us has been engineered.

How did you become interested in engineering, particularly forensic engineering?

I’ve always enjoyed math and science. I love how you can use the principles to solve real problems and understand how things work. My dad worked as an engineer and I really respected the work that he did with the careful analysis and attention to detail that I saw him do. I got involved in forensic engineering at VCE Inc. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a wide variety of different types of investigations. It is very interesting work.

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Tell us about your job and what it is you do for VCE Inc.

We are typically hired by insurance companies and attorneys to take a look at various types of failures or accidents where there is a question about how or why it happened. We are there to provide an independent technical assessment. I help with vehicle accident reconstructions, structural damage investigations, roofing damage investigations, water intrusion investigations, sinkhole damage investigations, and blasting damage investigations.

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Why is it important to the future of this country to get more students interested in engineering?

It is amazing when you really think about it. I mean literally everything around us has been engineered. Your house, your car, your smartphone, your computer, the internet, your television, the roadways, the bridges, the traffic light timing, the systems that deliver electricity and water and sewer to our homes and schools and workplaces. And when you learn all that goes into even the smallest part of the smallest thing, you realize how many engineers we need to design and maintain these things and to create the next thing that we don’t even have now that will change our lives.

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What is the professional goal of a forensic engineer like yourself?

Personally, my goal is to build and maintain a high level of technical competence in order to provide solid, accurate assessments for our clients. Additionally it is important to develop strong interpersonal skills to be able to interact well with other engineering team members and with people who are distressed by the losses we investigate. You also have to maintain a high level of integrity.

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What do you think would help get students more interested in engineering at a younger age?

I think if they were shown what real engineers do and how there are engineers behind many of the amazing things they see in our world and how they too could one day put their creative, inventive energies behind an idea and develop it into a physical reality that changes peoples lives for the better, many would embrace that vision and develop an interest in engineering. I mean children are naturally curious, imaginative and creative and I think if they connected that with a compelling vision for where an engineering career could take them and what they could do, it could carry them through the challenges and academic rigors that sometimes throw people off the engineering track.

STEM Careers: City Planner

Michael Hill

Michael Hill

Planning Coordinator for Louisville Metro Planning & Design Services

Graduated from Western Kentucky University

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It is critically important for our society’s advancement for science research and exploration to also advance exponentially.

How did you become interested in science, specifically geography?

From a young age I remember being interested in the science fields, but it was a 7th grade geography class that really sparked my interest. Unfortunately, geography is an under-appreciated field of study at the high school level in our country. In fact, I didn’t have another geography class after 7th grade until my first year of college.

I started at Western Kentucky University as a geography major, and I stuck with it throughout my four years on “The Hill.” Early on during my first year at WKU I learned about the field of City Planning, which was a component of WKU’s geography program. I was able to keep my Geography major, but steered my focus toward the City & Regional Planning option offered within the major. I’ve been a City Planner ever since.

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Tell us about your job and what it is you do for Louisville Metro Planning & Design Services.

Well, during my 14 years as a City Planner I have worked in large urban and small suburban government planning offices and I’ve spent time working in the private sector as a planning consultant. During most of the time spent working in the public sector I have been a plan reviewer, but my role within Louisville Metro Planning & Design Services has changed within the last year or so.

I currently am the person in charge of Louisville’s Land Development Code (LDC). I regularly field questions regarding various topics found within the LDC. We are always looking for ways to improve the document. In fact, currently our community is undergoing a complete review of the entire LDC. It is quite a large endeavor and I am leading the effort.

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Why is it important to the future of this country to get more students interested in science?

Learning about the various science related fields helps us better understand how and why certain elements of our environment came to be. It is critically important for our society’s advancement for science research and exploration to also advance exponentially.

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What is the professional goal of a city planner like yourself?

My goal as a public sector City Planner is to continuously attempt to have a beneficial impact to our community’s built environment. The decisions and policies set forth by our government leaders can certainly be influenced by local City Planners in an effort to create desirable, high quality spaces for the human experience.

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What do you think would help get students more interested in science at a younger age?

Teachers play a key role in developing an interest for science in students at an early age. If teachers really enjoy and are passionate about teaching science, then more students will continue to be interested in science as they proceed through school.

STEM Careers: Java Developer

Viswanath Guntupalli

Viswanath Guntupalli

Java Developer for Healthcare Management Systems in Nashville, TN

Graduated from Western Kentucky University

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How did you become interested in technology, particularly software development?

I’ve been interested in technology since I was 12 years old. That was the first time I got to play with a computer and soon I was amazed at the way it works. My interest in programming started a little later, probably when I was 15. That was the first time I was taught basic programming and I knew that very moment that it was my cup of tea. I liked the fact that you could write your own programs to make them do whatever you wanted to do. I also found programming challenging and I liked the idea of being challenged by a problem and the fact that you could solve it by writing programs in several different ways. As I grew older my passion toward programming also grew with me. The more I learned about computer science, the more interested I became in it.

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The future of our country lies with today’s youth as they become tomorrow’s citizens.

Tell us about your job and what it is you do for Healthcare Management Systems.

I work as a Java developer at Healthcare Management Systems. We here at HMS develop the software that is used at hospitals by doctors and nurses to better manage their patients. Right now I am part of a team that is working on building a component of software which tracks the allergies, problems and medication history of a patient and presents it to the doctor. As a developer, I’m working on the look and feel of the software (called graphical user interface) and my goal is to develop screens which have good ease of use and a pleasing look.

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Why is it important to the future of this country to get more students interested in technology?

The United States is the epicenter of technology of this world. All the greatest inventions and discoveries in the history of mankind have been made on this great land, most of the software companies which define the shape of technology in the present age have been founded here. Given the present day scenario where we face a lot of competition from several growing countries across the globe, it is really important for us as a country to keep our technological edge.

To keep the United States on the top of technology we have to show more interest in innovation and technology. The future of our country lies with today’s youth as they become tomorrow’s citizens. If we have more students studying science and technology, the USA will become more progressive in the field of technology. Also, it is projected that all future jobs will be related to technology by the year 2020. The USA will fall short because hundreds of thousands of people will lack the necessary technological skills. We should show more interest in science by investing in today’s students and also attracting the most talented students across the globe.

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What is the professional goal of a Java developer like yourself?

As a Java developer who just started his career, I see myself in a lead role in few years. My professional goal is to become a Java architect who outlays the solution for complex software problems.

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What do you think would help get students more interested in software development at a younger age?

To be more interested in software development at a later stage, students must show interest in mathematics in their foundation years. Software development or programming is directly related to mathematics; to have good programming skills you must have good mathematical problem solving abilities. Students must show interest in math and work hard to become good at math, which would lay the route for them to become good programmers.

STEM Careers: Medical Physicist

Sarah Rogers

Sarah Rogers

Medical Physicist at The Cancer Center at The Medical Center in Bowling Green

Graduated from Western Kentucky University

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How did you become interested in science?

I have loved science and math ever since I was a child. I remember two of my favorite gifts growing up were a miniature microscope and a toy circuit board. I had great science and math teachers in school that helped fuel the passion.

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The main reason I entered the field of Medical Physics was to use my science knowledge to improve the lives of cancer patients. It is a very rewarding job.

Tell us about your job and what it is you do for The Cancer Center.

My graduate school professor has one of the best descriptions of a medical physicist’s job. Basically, as a pharmacist is to drugs, a medical physicist is to radiation. In other words, the physician prescribes a certain dose of radiation to the patient, and the medical physicist is responsible for making sure the correct dose is delivered. There are many aspects to the job, including calibrating the machines that deliver the radiation and verifying that the customized radiation plans for each patient are correct.

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Why is it important to the future of this country to get more students interested in science?

I believe a lot of people take for granted the impact science has on their daily lives. Many of our creature-comforts including electricity, air conditioning, microwave dinners, cell phones, etc. would not exist without science. People can live longer, healthier lives thanks to science-driven medical advancements. Obviously these are just a few ways in which science has improved our lives. It is crucial that students continue to be interested in science so as a society we can continue to enjoy the advancements science brings.

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What is the professional goal of a Medical Physicist like yourself?

My number one professional goal is to ensure the safety and quality of patient care. The main reason I entered the field of Medical Physics was to use my science knowledge to improve the lives of cancer patients. It is a very rewarding job.

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What do you think would help get students more interested in science at a younger age?

I think teachers and parents should be enthusiastic about science. If science is exciting, more students will want to be involved.

STEM Careers: Software Programmer

Colin Klein

Colin Klein, software programmer

Senior Consultant for Decision Source, Inc. in Nashville, TN

Graduate of Western Kentucky University

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In layman’s terms, I’m just a problem solver.

How did you become interested in technology, specifically software development?

I believe I’ve always had an interest in technology, video games, gadgets, etc., but I think the major event in my life that lead to my current profession was when my mom bought our household our first personal computer when I was in middle school. At this point in time, it wasn’t particularly common to have a computer in your home and I was one of the first of my friends to have the privilege. I’d have friends over to play games on it and when they’d leave I’d play around with the settings and administration tools in Windows 95, customizing things and learning how to maintain the system using stuff like hard drive de-fraggers and registry cleaners. I tinkered with that computer the way I imagine car aficionados tinker with a muscle car’s engine.

Around a year or so later, we got the thing connected to the internet on the pre-installed 28.8kbps, dial-up modem and I spent a sizable portion of my free time during high school goofing off on the internet. I’d experiment with different search engines as they came out (there wasn’t always a Google). I’d make terrible 90s websites with big ugly graphics and animated gifs. I even ran an online radio station where I’d take requests and broadcast live prank phone calls to classmates. Eventually, I joined a program at my high school where we designed and created websites for the school.

When I started college, I originally planned on majoring in physics. I had some grandiose dreams of being a theoretical physicist or a rocket scientist so I took the hardest physics classes I could jump into as a freshman. This backfired as it burned me out on the subject too quickly and by my second semester, I found I was enjoying the silly programs I was writing for my Intro to Computer Science class more than the physics work so I switched majors and I’ve never looked back. (That’s not necessarily true. I still read physics books and keep up with the latest physics discoveries and sometimes wonder “what if?” I just like the phrase “I’ve never looked back.”)

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Everyday life is becoming more and more reliant on technology. Because of this, a basic understanding of technology is becoming crucial to perform even the most common of tasks.

Tell us about your job and what it is you do for Decision Source, Inc.

In layman’s terms, I’m just a problem solver. We consult with our clients and learn everything we can about their business and what they need to do from day to day. We then look for ways we can use existing technology or write custom software to make their daily lives more streamlined and productive.

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Why is it important to the future of this country to get more students interested in technology?

Everyday life is becoming more and more reliant on technology. Because of this, a basic understanding of technology is becoming crucial to perform even the most common of tasks. At this point, the thought of even trying to find a job without basic internet search skills seems like an impossible task.

As the world becomes more globalized and connected, more and more low-skilled jobs will move out of this country and technology-related jobs will become increasingly important to our economy.

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What is the professional goal of a senior consultant like yourself?

I believe professional goals are a very personal thing, and as such, they are unique to everyone. I would say, for someone in my general position, one might aspire to run their own consulting company or perhaps write some application or website with popular appeal (an Angry Birds or Facebook for example) that could make them a fortune. I personally just want a profession that evolves with the world around me and gives me new challenges to solve every day. I’ve already got that now, so I suppose my goal is to keep that up for as long as I can.

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What do you think would help get students more interested in software development at a younger age?

As far as software development goes, I think exposure is key. Until I started college, I never really had access to any formal education on programming. Even the program I was in when I was in high school where I learned a little about web development – most of what I learned was self-taught and researched. I think we need to add more technology to the curriculum. Technology in the classroom seems to be a big movement right now. I’d like to seem more education about how that technology works.

There are also programs like MIT’s Scratch visual programming language and toys like the Lego Mindstorms that help expose children to programming concepts in a way that is fun and accessible. Tools like these could be brought into the classroom to show children some of the fun applications of software development.

 

STEM Careers: Actuarial Analyst

Jacob Vervynckt

Jacob Vervynckt, actuarial analyst

Actuarial Analyst for Lincoln Financial Group in Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Graduate of Western Kentucky University

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Technology is continuing to develop at a rapid pace, so the United States needs bright new students in math and the sciences to keep on the cutting edge of innovation.

How did you become interested in math?

Math and the sciences in general were always my favorite subjects in school. Ever since I was young, I have always enjoyed figuring out problems and puzzles involving numbers and logic. I find being able to figure out where all the pieces go in working toward a solution very rewarding. When deciding on college, I knew I wanted to do something in the math and science fields, leading me to get degrees in mathematics and chemistry from Western Kentucky University.

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Tell us about your job and what it is you do for Lincoln Financial Group.

At Lincoln Financial Group, I work in the Asset/Liability Management department working with fixed annuities. The main part of my job is to run scenarios projecting cash flows into the future under varying risk assumptions and sensitivities, such as changes in interest, mortality, and lapse rates, to see how such changes could affect our future profitability.

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Why is it important to the future of this country to get more students interested in math?

Math is all around us and affects everyone. It is used in so many different fields for so many different reasons. Without someone understanding the math and science that goes into new innovations, we would not have many of the modern conveniences that we enjoy today. Technology is continuing to develop at a rapid pace, so the United States needs bright new students in math and the sciences to keep on the cutting edge of innovation.

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What is your ultimate goal as an actuarial analyst?

My goal is to mitigate risk so as to help Lincoln Financial Group move securely forward in serving its customers’ financial needs.

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What do you think would help get students more interested in math at a younger age?

A common complaint heard in math classes is “When am I ever going to use this?” As I stated earlier, math affects everyone in the products they use in their day-to-day lives. So although you may not need to know the math in order to operate your cell phone, car, or computer, you better be glad that someone does know how to do it.

Thus, I think that giving students concrete examples and hands-on experience of how the math and science they are learning is used in the real world will hopefully increase the knowledge and appreciation for math and the sciences in the general population and encourage and excite those students who dream of going into the math and science fields to make the next big scientific breakthrough.

STEM Careers: Design Engineer

Karen Edberg

Black Belt DFSS for GE Appliances in Louisville, Ky.

Graduate of the University of Louisville

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How did you become interested in engineering?

I enjoyed math and science all thru grade school and high school.  I was planning to go into physics, which I really enjoyed, when I graduated high school.  My physics teacher recommended engineering.  I’ve always been more of a hands on and application based person than a theory person.  She thought that engineering would suit me better than physics and she was correct.  Once in college, I started looking at the different engineering types.  Fall of my sophomore year I took thermodynamics and I was hooked on mechanical engineering.

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The most important thing for engineering is curiosity. Engineers need to understand how things  work so that they can make them better.

Tell us about your job and what it is you do for General Electric.

I design parts and develop cooking algorithms (energy delivery algorithms) for ranges, ovens, and microwaves.

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Why is it important for America’s future to get more students interested in engineering?

Engineers make things work. Without engineers we do not have cars, appliances, power plants, plumbing, buildings, smart phones, computers, bridges or highways, and many other items that we use every day.  We need more people to “catch the science bug” so that we can have a country capable of developing and sustaining innovative items that work.

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What is your ultimate goal as a design engineer?

To design a good product for a consumer to use.

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What would help get students more interested in engineering at a younger age?

Give them things to take apart and see how they work. The most important thing for engineering is curiosity. Engineers need to understand how things  work so that they can make them better. Creativity is also beneficial. Creativity helps engineers come up with new and different ways to apply existing principles. Allowing children to explore how things work and challenging them to use what they learn in creative ways would definitely help get them interested in engineering.

For example, the next time you change a light bulb, explain how it works and why it has to be screwed or plugged in. Or the next time you have to change the oil in a car, explain why that is important and what the engine and other system do to make the car run. Things like this help kids understand how things work and can get them interested.

The GE Women’s Network at GE Appliance Park does a “bring your child to work day” event every year. At this event we have middle school children do activities related to different types of engineering (electrical, chemical, mechanical, industrial, etc.) to let them see how interesting science and engineering can be. The kids always seem to really enjoy it and hopefully we inspire some of them to become engineers or at least pursue a science related degree.

Also there are many kids who see scientific fields as “hard” and requiring “too much work.” Engineering and science education is not an easy profession; it requires hard work for most people. Students have to study to major in science and math and some kids just don’t want to have to do the work. Parents and teachers need to show kids that the hard work is worthwhile. A key item in all of this is teacher and parent encouragement.

STEM Careers: Environmental Inspector

Benjamin Allen

Benjamin Allen, environmental inspector

Environmental Inspector in the Division of Air Quality for the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection in Paducah, Ky.

Graduate of Kentucky Wesleyan College

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How did you become interested in science?

From a young age I was always fascinated with nature and understanding how things worked.  As I progressed in school it became apparent my strength was in the sciences. So with my love of nature and science abilities I leaned toward an education in biology. When I first went to school I was pre-physical therapy mainly because it paired my interest in athletics and science.  As I progressed I took more classes with outdoor labs and my interest shifted from human biology to ecological and animal sciences.  I then switched my major to one in zoology, which I graduated with in 2010 from Kentucky Wesleyan College.

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My goal is to help maintain the beauty that is in nature today by helping reduce pollution. That way, future generations may be able to enjoy nature as I have. 

Tell us about your job and what it is you do for Division of Air Quality for the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection.

My position consists of doing compliance inspections at various sources or facilities. These inspections are typically two prong. First: a visual inspection of the actual facility and emission points and related pollution control devices. Secondly, there’s a review of the required record keeping for each source. These records consist of a variety of things, from hours of operation, process materials, chemical composition of materials, specific measurements from control devices, and quantities of emissions. We are then responsible for writing up reports and sighting any violations found at the facility. If a violation is serious it can result in a fine.

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Why is it important for America’s future to get more students interested in science?

I believe that math and science are critical in education of young people today. Many positions require a background in science or math. The people I deal with are mostly engineers, either chemical or environmental. Many positions are being generated in relation to environmental protection on both the regulatory side – monitoring and controlling pollution – as well as in the private side, working for companies that must comply with environmental regulations. Positions are also being created that focus on the development of more environmentally friendly fuels and methods to reduce pollution. With the constant push away from fossil fuels, it is important for today’s students to be educated in science and math in order for America to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

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What is your ultimate goal as an environmental inspector?

My goal is to help maintain the beauty that is in nature today by helping reduce pollution, including hazardous air pollution that is a health risk to humans and natural fauna. That way, future generations may be able to enjoy nature as I have.

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What would help get students more interested in science at a younger age?

I think an emphasis on labs and hands-on application of scientific principles will help students learn and maintain their interest in the sciences. An exposure to how science is present in everyday life from the breakfast they eat to the clothing they wear is due to some form of science. An example: the genetically modified corn used to make the cereal they eat and the engineering used to make the machines that harvested that corn and the agricultural practices that allow farmers to reach higher crop yields without destroying the environment. This is just the tip of the iceberg as how science is involved in the everyday life of students. I think that an exposure to these types of instances could peak an interest in science at a young age.