Melissa Pumphrey earned her bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering last year and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in ocean engineering through Florida Tech’s FastTrack program.
During her time on campus, Melissa kept very busy and was involved in many student organizations including serving as the President and Student Advisor of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society; Vice President of Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society; Administrative Vice President and Education Vice President of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority; Vice President of Order of Omega Greek Life Honor Society; and Orientation Panther Prep Leader.
In addition, she was in the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP) in 2015, interned for the Marine Resources Council, a local non-profit dedicated to enhancing the quality of marine systems, especially the Indian River Lagoon and is currently an intern at Structural Composites, Inc.
In 2015, her student design team took home the Northrop Grumman Best in Showcase for the College of Science for their project, Thematic Categories & Associated Metrics to Develop an Indian River Lagoon Report Card. Working with her design partner, Kait Wood, they were inspired by their time interning at the Marine Resources Council to develop a strategy for assessing the health of the Indian River Lagoon.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a senior in ocean engineering and am originally from Maryland. I grew up on the water so I love the ocean as well as robotic systems because their advancement to human capabilities is astonishing. My career goal is to work for Naval Research Labs developing or enhancing current underwater vehicles. Currently I am enrolled in the FastTrack program at Florida Tech, pursuing a master’s degree in ocean engineering. I accepted an internship through a Naval Surface Warfare Center working on vehicles this summer (this will be my second year in the program) and I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to gain experience in my field.
What inspired you to pursue a STEM education and career?
I’ve always loved the ocean and excelled in math and science, so ocean engineering seemed like the perfect fit for me. I wanted to be able to explore the world of technology which has always fascinated me, and the world in general (as long as I could stay by the water that is). I was always amazed at the fact that the ocean covers over 70% of our world and we know very little about it; it has driven my interest in pursuing innovations in ocean discovery.
What do think are some of the most shared/common challenges women in STEM fields encounter?
I feel having the confidence to put our ideas out there and show how truly innovative we can be in our field is always one of the biggest challenges for women in STEM. When you’re in a room where you’re one of the few women, sometimes you don’t want to speak up since you already stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve learned from my four years of attending Florida Tech and gaining experience in the field that this initial fear/feeling of mine is silly and I’ve learned to never let the ratio of a room keep me from stating my ideas or thoughts on a subject.
How have you overcome obstacles/challenges as a woman in STEM?
I’ve taken the lead on many projects I’ve been involved with, and I treat those around me with the respect I feel I deserve. I never hesitate to take up an opportunity to get my hands dirty trying to solve a problem, especially out in the field. I always remember that in a STEM career everyone I meet will have knowledge to share with me and I look forward to this exchange, even when it poses a challenge. I think treating those around me as an equal and with respect creates confidence in both those around me and in myself allowing us all to advance in the STEM field.
Knowing what you know now, what advice you would give your younger self?
Ask more questions. Never be afraid to ask what, why, how, and dream about the possibilities of everything you encounter. Embrace the butterflies in your stomach and never hold back on putting yourself in situations that create that feeling+6, it’ll make you stronger in the end, I promise.
What one takeaway would you want to impart on a young woman thinking of pursuing an education/career in STEM?
Never stop dreaming and never stop working toward that dream. I couldn’t be happier with the path I am on in my career and in my life in general thanks to my dedication to working toward my dream, and that should be a norm for every young woman.
What is an aspect of being a woman in STEM you were surprised to discover?
It still surprises me with the lack of the number of women in engineering. Many of the women I know from both Florida Tech and my experience in the industry are some of the brightest people I’ve ever met, yet engineering classes remain unequal in the ratio of men to women. I’d like to see more women in the future in STEM programs.
In your experience, what are the top things leaders could do to encourage more young women to enter STEM fields?
The amazing female mentors I have had during internships and as advisors in organizations on and off campus have always encouraged me in their leadership by example. I see the projects and fields they pursued and excel in and it drives me to achieve and learn more each and every day.