AYER — Jillian Schlip and Jennifer McGrath, both seniors at Ayer Shirley Regional High School, are among the chosen few area high school students to participate in the Women in Technology (WIT) program at BAE Systems, an on-the-job learning experience that may help shape their future careers.
Jill, who is a couple weeks into the 16-week WIT program this year and Jenn, who completed it last year, talked about their experiences in a recent interview.
ASRHS Principal Al Varga provided answers for the first two questions.
Q: What is the WIT program?
A: It is a collaborative effort between BAE Systems, Inc., based in New Hampshire and participating area high schools. Its goal is to foster interest in the technical field among female high school students by exposing them to careers in the field while providing guidance and support.
Q: How long does it last and what are the particulars?
A: The 16-week program consists of orientation and technical rotations that include shadowing professionals in different areas of engineering: software, mechanical, electrical, microwave; signal processing and failure analysis.
Q: Presuming your future college and career plans steered you toward the WIT program, what are they?
Jill: I hope to attend WPI and major in bio-medical engineering with a minor in robotics
Jenn: Undecided. I want to major in materials/software engineering. I’m not sure about the specific job I want but with that degree I’d have the basics for the kind of work I want to do, I’m interested in manipulating materials at the core. For example, there’s a process that takes out pigments in wood and inserts polymers to create a material that could replace glass for windows and doors.
Q: With college plans not buttoned up yet, you’re both specific about majors, where did your strong science and technology bent come from?
Jenn: My dad always let me work on projects with him, we built a pool shed together. I love chemistry, thought I wanted to be a vet but after joining the robotics team freshman year, I changed my mind.
Jill: Robotics sparked my interest, too. I learned I do like math. Originally, I was thinking marine biology, I’m a certified scuba diver, diving since age 14 in places like Belize, Honduras, Cozumel, the Florida Keys…I thought about pre-med as an option, too, but it’s a little scary. For a future job, I’d like to get into tissue engineering at the micro level, synthetics that imitate living tissue.
Q: With relatively few women engineers and an historic tendency among female students to steer away from math and science, have either of you experienced bias against females eyeing technical careers?
Jenn: When others think I might have limitations, it’s my challenge to prove them wrong. I do better.
Jill: I don’t think so. People are sometimes surprised. Not my parents, though. Mom’s proud of my goals and dad’s like “I told you so…”
Q: How did you get into the WIT program?
Jill: You apply. There were lots of applications this year. I was the only one from Ayer Shirley.
Q: Other than girls-only, are there a lot of criteria? Do you need top grades, recommendations?
Jenn: Not really. It’s open to juniors and seniors. They look at grades but there’s no grade requirement. They did ask if you’re in First Robotics (competitive robotics team) but as an interest, it’s not required.
Q: What are your impressions of the WIT program?
Jill: I’ve been going for two weeks, once a week at different (BAE Systems) locations. It’s a big company. Most of the other girls in the program are from New Hampshire. It’s nice to talk robotics, we have that in common.
Jenn: I enjoyed it very much. Halfway through, they have a panel where you meet with BAE’s female engineers. At the end, there’s a banquet where you stand up and tell everyone what you’ve learned. They even have a class that prepares you to do that, teaches you how to make a business presentation.
Q: What other extracurriculars are you into?
Jenn: I’m a three-sport athlete: volleyball, indoor track and softball. I’m also on the student counsel and in the National Honor Society.
Jill: I play clarinet in the ASRHS marching band. I’m also in the jazz and concert pit bands and play the sax as a second instrument. For sports, mine are outside school, including cross fit gym. And diving. I hope to get my advanced certificate so I can do deeper dives and wreck diving, maybe search and rescue sometime in the future.
Q: Besides enrichment perks, how do you think the WIP program will affect your future?
A: It introduced us to a lot of different specialties and will be really helpful to our resumes.