Kelly Hassett is one BFIT student who is well on her way to overcoming the gender barriers that keep many women out of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
This summer, Kelly joined three other BFIT students at National Grid as an intern working in substation engineering and design. She is part of the team that builds and maintains vital components in the system that powers our homes and businesses. She finds that the critical thinking and hands-on skills she acquired in her mechanical engineering technology (MET) courses at BFIT are helping her to navigate the intricacies of the power grid. And she is making meaningful connections with National Grid’s engineers, some of whom are BFIT alumni. She notes that the engineers are devoted to helping her learn and advance in the field. Kelly is hopeful that her new contacts will also help her land a post-graduation job in engineering technology—a passion that was reignited the moment she walked through BFIT's doors.
“The key to women’s success at BFIT is the advising system. It is unique to this school. We see the potential in students that others sometimes don’t see. The student has to want it, but faculty and staff want it just as much. We don’t allow our students to fail or give up.”
-Kiera Mahoney, Assistant Director of Admissions, Faculty Advisor for the Women in Society Club
A trip in the 7th grade to her father’s office at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in New Bedford sparked her interest in engineering and technology. Models of dams and bridges along with her father’s stories of managing projects like the Cape Cod Canal and performing disaster relief with FEMA shaped her desire to solve real world problems using math and science.
In addition to early exposure, mentorship is crucial for girls to stay interested in STEM fields. And that is exactly what Kelly experienced. Following that 7th grade trip, she spent as many summers as possible in science camps. Then a visit to her high school by a female engineer showed her how technicians and engineers use knowledge of civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering to help people and improve society. Her teachers and her parents saw her potential and continued to encourage her to pursue a career in STEM.
Yet, despite a positive and enriching STEM education all the way through high school, college level education in a technical field proved to be an isolating and demoralizing experience for Kelly. Before transferring to BFIT, Kelly struggled for a few semesters at another college where there was very little support and a lack of tutoring, mentoring, and advocacy. She describes sitting in a lecture hall with 500 students. That was bad enough, but on top of that she looked around to discover that she was the only woman in the class. When she discussed the difficult course-load with her advisor, he failed to point her to the right resources. Eventually, she became so discouraged that she dropped out. Then, a family friend told her about BFIT, and she came for a tour of the school. She immediately saw the possibility for a second chance at a technical career.
Kelly discovered that there are so many opportunities for women in STEM at BFIT. The college is growing its female population and has launched several initiatives to promote an environment where women can thrive socially and academically. A Women in Society Club focuses on leadership development with activities that include hosting an annual Women in Technology Day and taking part in STEM conferences. The college created a Women’s Leadership Scholar Award to recognize gifted female students with a passion for STEM. The award comes with up to $10,000 in scholarships for several female recipients each year. And BFIT has plans for a Women’s Center, and efforts are underway to raise funds for this space.
Kiera Mahoney, faculty advisor for the Women in Society Club, says that, “the key to women’s success at BFIT is the advising system. It is unique to this school. We see the potential in students that others sometimes don’t see. The student has to want it, but faculty and staff want it just as much. We don’t allow our students to fail or give up.”
These days, as Kelly enters the senior year of her bachelor’s in MET and leads tours of the college for prospective students, she has become a walking testimonial that BFIT is committed to gender equity in STEM education and to creating a pipeline of talented and capable female technicians and engineers.