Today we continue our celebration of Women’s History Month, and the incredible contributions women have made to STEM fields in particular, by highlighting another BioAgilytix team member – this time from the technology side of our business. Whitney Gonzales, IT Support Specialist at BioAgilytix, shares some of her own stories and advice about pursuing a career in STEM below.
How old were you when your interest in technology was first sparked? How did it happen?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved math and science. I was the kid in school who would pick math as my favorite subject instead of PE. I think one of the reasons why I like mathematics so much is because it is the same all over the world.
My interest in the technology field did not come until college though. I hardly knew how to turn on a computer when I started college, and it was the furthest thing from my mind. I started looking for a part-time job to help me pay for school when I came across a student technical consultant position at my college. One of my friends who worked there said that he didn’t think that I could do it, so of course I had to apply for the job and prove him wrong. I learned so much about computers by working hands-on with them at that job that I decided to change my major to Computer Science, and the rest is history.
Tell us a little about your educational background. What drove you to pursue a STEM field of study and then make it your career?
As far as education goes, I got my undergraduate degree in General Studies with an emphasis on Computer Science, Information Systems, and Mathematics. After that I continued to take additional classes like psychology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, first responder and first aid, and nutritional health classes because I found them so interesting. I like to be constantly learning.
I think one of the reasons why I love the technology field so much is because it’s always evolving, and I am always learning something new and exciting. I love the challenges that come with troubleshooting an issue and the feeling of accomplishment when you figure out a solution to the problem. I also love helping people, and there are so many ways that I can do that in the technology field.
Describe your journey in pursuing the STEM field as a woman. What have been your biggest observations and challenges?
In my Computer Science courses in college, I was often the only woman in the class. The most women I ever had in one class were 3, and that was for a lower level course. That same ratio has pretty much held true throughout my career as well. One of the biggest challenges that I have faced is the prejudice that comes with being a woman in technology. I have had several men who have refused my help because they did not think that a woman would know how to help them. However, I have been pretty fortunate to have great supervisors who have believed in me, and I just work hard and make sure that they know how valuable of an asset I am to the company that I work for.
As a woman it might take a little longer to prove yourself, but if you work hard, no one can dispute that. I think I have seen some of the best opportunities right here in the Research Triangle Park area, which is one of the reasons why I moved to North Carolina.
What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your career so far?
There have been several big projects that I’ve worked on as a Computer Scientist/IT Support Specialist. One of my greatest accomplishments so far has been creating a mobile application for a college that I worked for to help track training, pedagogy, published works, etc. There was a lot of collaboration that went into that project, and it took months to program and perfect it. It felt great to be able to make something from scratch and see the finished project be able to help so many people.
Something that I love about the technology field is that no matter where I land in it, I am always helping someone. It can either be behind the scenes working on a server or the network, programming an application, standing right next to someone teaching them how to do something, or fixing a hardware or software issue on a laptop. At the end of the day, I am still helping someone, and I find myself learning something new every day.
Who have been your greatest mentors – past and/or present?
I think my greatest mentor would have to be my mother. I have always looked up to her, and she has always encouraged me to be the best that I can be. She has always believed in me and inspired me to follow my dreams.
I would also have to say that my Human Anatomy and Physiology Professor, Dr. Kathleen Hartney, is one of my greatest mentors. She truly cares about her students succeeding and being happy with whatever career that they decide is best for them. She helps students study for the MCAT, advises students about career choices, has additional office hours to answer questions about lectures, takes the time to learn everyone’s name, and so much more.
What advice would you give to young girls and women pursuing careers and interests in the STEM fields?
There are so many options and opportunities in the STEM field. If you do not like a specific field of science or technology, try a different class. If you find a career in the STEM field, you will never be bored because people are discovering new things all of the time. It’s challenging and fun, and most importantly you will be able to help people.
What women in science/technology inspire you? Why?
There are so many women that have inspired me, but a couple of my favorites are Elizabeth Blackwell who was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States, and Sally Ride who was the first woman astronaut from the United States. They were visionaries that saw something that they wanted to accomplish and went after their dreams until they achieved success. They are amazing role models that never quit.
We thank Whitney for sharing her perspectives and for being a valued member of BioAgilytix’s team! You can also hear more stories and advice on STEM careers from a science perspective from our Director Dr. Jenn Zemo here. Happy #WomensHistoryMonth!