Volunteers make an impact on International Women’s Day

Women leaders speak to high school students during San Diego career conference

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From left, Viasat employees Taryne Haskamp, Lindsey Jones, Jennifer Wilder, Andrea Jauregui, April Spera, Emelie Deans, and Christy Ferguson led presentations for San Diego area high school students during the recent Women Who Inspire conference.

Viasat lead aviation structural engineer April Spera’s high school physics teacher pointed her down the path that led to her current career. On International Women’s Day, she returned the favor. Spera was one of eight female Viasat employees who spoke to San Diego area high school students during the Women Who Inspire conference.

The March 8 conference featured workshops led by women from several STEAM-related industries. They shared their career journeys and work experiences with about 200 students from seven local high schools.

The percentage of women in the tech workforce is on a slow but steady rise. Women make up nearly 30% of today’s tech employees, an improvement from years past but one that represents a still-yawning equality gap.

The greatest challenge women in tech cite are lack of opportunities for advancement, and close behind that reason are lack of female role models and mentorship. The conference aims to fill that need.

Viasat was the lead sponsor for the event, held at the University of California San Diego Park & Market building, and coordinated by the nonprofit Generation STEAM. STEAM fields are in the areas of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics.

Spera, who works with Viasat’s aircraft engineering group, and aircraft engineering coworkers Emelie Deans, Taryne Haskamp, and Christy Ferguson led a workshop about the aerospace industry. Viasat installs in-flight connectivity systems on commercial, business and government aircraft, and the four women work in various aspects of the business.

The team explained their roles, and talked with the girls about aerodynamics, helping demonstrate the physics of a plane by making paper airplanes with them.

“I mentioned that my favorite subject in high school was physics, and that the first person to suggest I could do engineering was my high school physics teacher,” Spera said. “That sparked my interest and brought me where I am today — to a job and a career I really enjoy.

“So many people helped me along on that path that I feel I should help others. It’s my hope that just seeing other women in engineering may help inspire more to come into the field.”

Spera believes the team’s visit had that effect on at least one student

“One girl who said she was on a biomedical path in high school asked me if she could still go into aerospace engineering in college,” she said. “I said, ‘yes, you can.’ You can definitely pursue aerospace engineering even though you already chose a different path in high school.’”

Taryn Umeda, a Viasat aftermarket program manager who supports business and commercial aviation, led a separate workshop about careers in sustainability. Umeda focused on the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which range from eliminating poverty and hunger to making communities inclusive, safe and sustainable. The UN has set a 2030 deadline for the global goals, set in 2015 by UN member states.

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Taryn Umeda

While the workshop was not specific to her field, the goals are an issue close to Umeda’s heart, and she feels they also present unique opportunities for future STEAM careers.

“My goal was to teach them about the sustainability goals, which touch on the world’s biggest problems, and get them to think how a STEAM career could impact those goals,” she said. “We talked about what career paths they could go into to support sustainability and be a representative as woman in the field.”

Umeda said the students were enthusiastic and already had a good grasp of some of the topics they discussed. The day left her feeling hopeful.

“I think it’s so important we teach the youth what opportunities there are for them so they can contribute to future generations,” she said. “It gave me hope to see these workshops were not just filled, but overflowing, and to think about the impact these young women can have on their work teams — and perhaps even the world — in the future.”

Viasat volunteers and the workshops they led included:

  • The Offroad Career Atlas: Making Your Own Way in STEAM - Jen Wilder
  • The Life of an Industrial Engineer - Lindsey Jones and Andrea Jauregui
  • Flight of Dreams - April Spera, along with Emelie Deans, Taryne Haskamp, and Christy Ferguson
  • 17 Goals and 1 United Vision - Taryn Umeda