Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM: “Fitting into stereotypes is boring but venturing out of those stereotypes could bring you so much joy both in school and in your future career” with Ashley Kimbel and Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Sep 11 · 12 min read

I would tell them to not be afraid of defying the status quo. Fitting into stereotypes is boring but venturing out of those stereotypes could bring you so much joy both in school and in your future career. I would tell them to take the class that sounds interesting, and not to settle for following the crowd. I did not take the extracurricular classes that most people in my school took, but I truly believe I am better for it. Most importantly I would just tell them to be open with what they are interested in. When something seems interesting just roll with it and see where it takes you.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Kimbel, an 18-year-old incoming biomedical engineering student at the University of Alabama Birmingham. She is from Huntsville, AL — also known as “Rocket City” — and was able to jumpstart her STEM career by participating in an advanced manufacturing/engineering program at Grissom High School. This program led her to the opportunity of a lifetime with Siemens USA. Guided by her engineering teacher at school and fueled by Siemens SolidEdge software, Ashley was able to design, optimize and build a lighter prosthetic for a wounded veteran, allowing him to resume his favorite outdoor activities with ease.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in middle school, I never imagined engineering would be a potential option for my future career path, I always imagined it would be medicine. However, I had a pre-algebra teacher who was looking for students to be on his new Greenpower team. This is a program where students build and race single seat electric race cars. I hesitantly agreed to join after some persuasion, and it ended up being my launching pad into engineering. I continued with Greenpower through middle school and into high school, and this led me to the advanced manufacturing/engineering program at Grissom High School. That program was where I really fell in love with engineering. However, I was still infatuated with medicine. Somewhere along the way, I don’t remember exactly when or where it was, I heard about biomedical engineering. To me, biomedical engineering is the perfect combination of both fields that I want to pursue.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began pursuing a career in STEM?

By far the most interesting part has been having the chance to work with an amputee veteran, Kendall. Kendall lost his leg in Afghanistan and I was able to design and build a new athletic prosthetic foot that would allow him to be more active for longer periods of time. I used the Computer Aided Design (CAD) program called SolidEdge by Siemens to design the foot. I then 3D printed tools that I used to layup the foot in carbon fiber. The entire project took almost a year from the day we had the first meeting to the day I handed the final foot over to Kendall. This project started out as an excellent opportunity for me to use the engineering skills that I had been developing for 4 years, but it soon turned into a project that allowed me to give back to someone who came so very close to paying the ultimate price for the freedom I enjoy in the United States.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There are so many stories of me making mistakes throughout this whole process. The most memorable mistake was adding a random number 1 into an offset command in SolidEdge (rookie mistake). This resulted in a ruined 36-hour print very close to an important deadline. I wasted a ton of time and material, but at least I learned to check my dimensions. Oh, but it doesn’t end there! I went home and fixed this 3D file. I came in the next day excited to set up the print, only to find out that the printer was broken as it would stay for the next month. Following the printer finally being fixed and the prints being finished, it was time to very quickly layup the foot out of carbon fiber. With only one week to the deadline we went aggressive with our carbon fiber layup process, laying it up in one complete piece. Because of how narrow the foot molds were, it was extremely difficult to place all of the materials inside the mold correctly. Long story short, after curing the part, the wool-like breather material was completely bonded to the carbon fiber. We tried for hours and could not find a solution, so we opted to try again the next day. On my drive home that day my sleep deprived mind decided that a soldering iron might separate the two materials. Here was where I learned one of my biggest lessons. A 425-degree CELSIUS soldering iron is not the answer to any carbon fiber problem. I sat in class with my three other classmates, took out my soldering iron and began melting the wool from the composite material. In the end, I created the worst gaseous smell that required us to evacuate the room and set the carbon fiber on fire. At the end of all that, we still had to redo the layup.

What do you think makes a company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have never seen a company that stands out more than Siemens. They are focusing on redefining the corporate stereotype. They are focusing on promoting the future of technology in our world and all of the ways that technology can be used to change the world for the better. In my opinion, they are such an extraordinary company because they focus their values towards the betterment of the world. It attracts other companies, people and business. Personally, I have loved working with Siemens because of how positive they are, how much they have supported me and how much of a difference they are making in the world. Technology is the future and Siemens is the front runner in promoting the idea of these new technologies to the younger generations. They do this through allowing their software to be downloaded by any student, this is how I first came into contact with Siemens, and how many other students will hopefully dip their tows into Siemens technology as well. Not only are they great because they are focused on the future but also because they are so diverse, both in industry and in population. Siemens is everywhere, in most countries and in most realms of technology (anything from a door handle to an MRI machine). This allows them to have the greatest impact on the greatest amount of people. For all of these reasons, Siemens is a company that exhibits everything I believe an extraordinary company should.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now or what would like to work on in the future? How do you think that will help people in the future?

Currently I’m switching my focus to college. My school is very heavy in undergraduate research and that is one of the reasons I chose it. I now have the opportunity to work with one of UAB’s Biomedical Engineering Professors in his research labs where he is using 3D printing to create a bioreactor that will simulate mechanical stressors in the tumor microenvironment (main focus is breast cancer). I also have some of my own personal ideas that I got after visiting Siemens’ Cypress location. This project would utilize CAD programs and bioimaging in the field of orthopedics. Nothing official on that project yet, but I’m working towards it.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I am unique in that I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama where almost everyone you meet is an engineer or knows an engineer. That being said from the time I was young I have been surrounded by female engineers so up until recently I didn’t understand what the problem really was. In just my first week of college, where I have been participating in the engineering retreat, I have already noticed a severe difference between the number of males and females. I believe that there are stereotypes regarding which gender should go into which career field and unfortunately engineering is one of the fields that coincides with the male stereotype. In order to fix this, I believe that all we have to do is expose more girls to STEM. It took less than a year to have me hooked on it, and I bet you there are thousands more like me. The prosthetic project I did was not necessarily hard, it just required a passion for engineering that was instilled in me back in the eighth grade. By exposing more young girls to STEM fields in their schools, I am sure there will be a dramatic increase in women entering STEM fields. That being said, I also believe that a simple one day engineering camp is not good enough to light that fire. I had been to dozens of those camps throughout my elementary years. I would remember them for a couple days and then quickly forget what I had learned. It will take constant exposure, exposure that you get in a year long class to light those fires. There needs to be a movement of putting tech schools, medical programs, machining programs and many other types of programs into schools across the country.

What advice would you give to female students about the best way to break into a career in STEM?

I would tell them to not be afraid of defying the status quo. Fitting into stereotypes is boring but venturing out of those stereotypes could bring you so much joy both in school and in your future career. I would tell them to take the class that sounds interesting, and not to settle for following the crowd. I did not take the extracurricular classes that most people in my school took, but I truly believe I am better for it. Most importantly I would just tell them to be open with what they are interested in. When something seems interesting just roll with it and see where it takes you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This is an easy question. I would have to say my engineering teacher Mr. Faust. He was unique in that he taught us how to be engineers through a project based class. He allowed us the freedom to pursue what we wanted and no matter how crazy he always supported and guided his students. He taught me so much through his unique style of teaching and his own life experiences. There aren’t enough words to describe how very thankful I am to have been one of his students. His class has given me opportunities I never could have dreamed of and I am forever grateful to him. He was the one who randomly ran into a Siemens representative and proudly told him of what his students were doing and that is what spring boarded my relationship with Siemens. A relationship that changed my life. There are no specific stories that stand out to me about Mr. Faust. It’s the constant things he did that I remember best. He stayed at school with us on so many evenings that he could have been with his family. He always allowed us to be creative with our 3D prints, allowing us to print the craziest things. A lot of Christmas ornaments were created on his machines (we wasted SO MUCH of his material). Most of all, he always made sure that we were having fun in his class, that we were not stressed out and that we were learning real applicable skills. He changed my life and I am eternally grateful.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I hope that my success will show anyone who hears it that having an innovative idea and putting it into action is only a step away. All they need to do is jump for it. I am not special, what I did took very little skill or intelligence. It simply took hard work, passion and an idea. My biggest hope is that people will see they can do something just the same and probably better than what I did by just having an idea and taking some initiative. I hope that my story starts a chain reaction.

Can you please share an anecdote for the following: “What I Learned from My Experience as an up-and-coming Woman in STEM” and why?

My project with Kendall taught me so much more than just engineering skills. Though I did learn many engineering skills such as new carbon fiber layup techniques and problem solving, I also learned skills vital to the engineering industry that aren’t necessarily engineering skills. The most important of these is project management. Some of my biggest challenges throughout my project were keeping track of deadlines, maintaining communications with everybody involved, and scheduling work times. Of course, this was all on top of being a Senior in high school taking 5 AP classes and dual enrolling in an EMT program through the local community college. I truly value the fact that I learned to manage my time and manage people in a project. I believe those skills will come in very handy throughout my education and career.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’ve had this idea for a little bit now, and I would very much like to find a way to execute it. I want to find a way to share the incredible opportunities I had in high school with thousands of kids across the country. School isn’t fun when you go and are only in core classes. Engineering classes made going to school so much fun for me. Not only did they make school fun, but I actually came out with skills that I could get an internship or job with. In fact, I know someone who didn’t think he was ready for college yet, so he took his skills that he learned in Mr. Faust’s class and he started working full time for an engineering firm. My school had so much more than just engineering, we had a medical program and a machining program as well. In all of these programs, students came out with certifications that they could get jobs with. This idea of an education that is not just focused on graduation but rather focused on student’s future careers is significant in that is sets both college-bound and non college-bound students up for success. My biggest dream is for every student across America to have these opportunities. I don’t know how executing that dream looks, but I would love to explore it.

Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The most relevant quote in my life is actually a verse of scripture. 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity”. This always stuck with me because it reminds me of who I can be when I set aside my fear of not being ready for something or not thinking I am someone who could make a difference. This verse reminds me that it Is not how many years I have been on this planet that defines who I am but rather it is how I have spent my time on this earth that will define the impact I can have on other people.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I would definitely have lunch with Ivanka Trump. I admire how she promotes introducing youth to STEM careers, women’s rights and world peace. Being that my ultimate goal is to be an orthopaedic surgeon which is 95% male, I also admire her success in the male dominated world of politics. On a second note, I’ve always loved Marvel Especially Iron Man’s tech so Robert Downey Jr, or anyone from Marvel would be my second choice!

Thank you for all of these great insights!

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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