Fort Belvoir community members learned about the value of education and the job market for science, technology, engineering and math career fields during the garrison’s Women’s History Month Observance, March 14 at the Fort Belvoir Officer’s Club.
The observance, hosted by the Equal Opportunity Office, celebrated women who represent this month’s theme: “Women in STEM,” which highlights female success in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Mary Ann Esfandiari, NASA Flight Projects Directorate for the Exploration and Space Communication Division associate director, served as the keynote speaker and discussed her STEM experiences.
“We need young girls and we need young boys to be interested in science, math, technology and engineering and go into those fields, because we have jobs for them,” Esfandiari said.
This year’s STEM theme should inspire young women to join the ranks of famous female astronauts, doctors and engineers, according to Sgt. 1st Class Ebonie Washington, EOO advisor. EOO exposed the participants to various STEM opportunities, such as NASA facts sheets and information on internships, on participants’ dining tables. To show the impact of STEM in education, Washington read an essay by seventh grader, Marshae Cappaniee, who expressed a desire to become a neonatal nurse after experiencing STEM classes in school.
“As we continue to push students they’ll become more successful,” said Andrea Kinghorn, Thurgood Marshall Middle School, math teacher, who shared her STEM experiences with event attendees prior to Esfandiari’s keynote speech.
Kinghorn encouraged Soldiers and civilians to make STEM fields more attractive to their children by taking them to museums and encouraging children to learn more about the subjects. Kinghorn’s speech and other information-highlighting STEM served as the precursor to the keynote presentation of Esfandiari.
During her NASA career, Esfandiari assumed leadership positions in areas such as the Science Data Systems Branch, the Advanced Data Management and Analysis Branch and the Information Systems Center. She is currently responsible for the on-orbit operation and sustaining engineering of the Space Network.
Esfandiari told the guests she had no natural talent in her field. Her skills developed from her passion for astronomy. Her parents’ support also helped develop her skills. During her childhood, her parents took her to museums and brought her items like a telescope.
“I always felt that I had opportunities,” Esfandiari said. “My parents didn’t give me a sense that there were barriers blocking my interests.”
The parent support and her passion pushed her through undergraduate and graduate studies and into a successful career, she said. Esfandiari encouraged the participants to say yes to opportunities. During her career, many of the jobs she performed were presented to her by someone simply asking her if she was interested. She always said yes even if she didn’t have all the necessary skills and experience.
“I learned by the seat of my pants,” Esfandiari said. “You say yes and then you get scared, then you’re sweating bullets, then your hair is on fire, but then you do the job. You may do it shaky at first but you eventually learn how to do it. This gives you a sense of confidence for the next opportunity.”
Esfandiari encourages people to pursue STEM careers, especially ones in NASA. NASA provides great opportunities for men and women and Esfandiari is ready to hire people now, she said. But a degree is critical.
“Regardless, of whatever your interest is in … you should go and finish the degree because you’re limited without it,” Esfandiari said. “Finish school, do it when you have a chance.”
Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander Col. Gregory D. Gadson provided Kinghorn and Esfandiari with awards for their presentations. He applauded them for setting an example for future generations of men and women.
“The example that you have shown so many, regardless of gender, has been important and inspiring,” Gadson said.
For more information visit www.belvoir.army.mil/eo/
According to the National Women’s History website, Women’s History Month traces back to the 1970s when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County California Commission on the Status of Women initiated a Women’s History Week. The celebration grew in popularity across state lines which eventually lead to the first month long commemoration in 1987.