Most women working in the computer science industry can trace their interest back to a compelling mentor or someone in their childhood who inspired them. Laurie Carey of Cold Spring Harbor got her start in this predominately male industry in a different way.
Growing up in a small town in upstate New York, Laurie got a job on an assembly line at Fairchild Semi Conductor. In a twist on the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel tried to keep pace with chocolate bonbons overflowing from the conveyor belt, Laurie had to assemble circuit boards at a fast pace. Laurie’s managers belittled the employees who could not keep up with her fast pace and they, in turn, gave Laurie a hard time.
No matter what came her way, Laurie mastered every task that she was assigned. “They kept moving me,” she says. It was at her next job that she was asked to build a PC from scratch and her untapped technological aptitude was finally recognized.
During the 80s, Laurie rose through the thin ranks of women in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) by working with many mentors. She built a networking community especially for women through Netware International, to not only open the lines of communication between women, but to encourage them to share their ideas and frustrations.
“I like to build and bring people together,” she says.
For more than 10 years, Laurie has been working at Microsoft and is currently a Partner Tech Strategist.
Drawing from her own experience, Laurie wanted to make high school and college students aware of the opportunities for STEM careers. She also wanted to inspire a greater population by adding an important element to the equation: the Arts.
“The “A” in STEAM is for a student who is artistic. They have a spark you don’t want to squelch, they can use that talent. There are many industries that can be applied to their capabilities,” she says.
Even today, less than 20 percent of undergraduate degrees in engineering are earned by women.
“There are so many bored high school students who are not using their talents. How do you make kids discover something exciting?”
Laurie’s vision came to fruition when she founded the non-profit We Connect the Dots. Their mission is to empower both students and teachers by giving them the education and tools needed for pursuing STEAM careers.
“We break it down for them. These are skills they can use to succeed for the rest of their lives,” she says.
And it’s that passion and natural curiosity that Laurie is seeking in the students who are mentored by the We Connect the Dots (WCTD) organization.
“We need to teach kids how to build their confidence and how to apply technology in business, like using a CRM, online tools and office products.” Laurie explains.
Laurie’s planning to roll out multiple WCTD programs throughout New York state and Long Island this year and then nationally, including a spring pilot program at the Digital Animation & Visual Effects School in Orlando, Florida.
“We have a five-day curriculum for a select group of 10 students, 13 to 18 years old,” she explains. “We want to expose them to see what can excite them.”
WCTD offers internships, job shadowing for students and teachers, career development and coaching.
“It’s a team collaboration,” she explains but said there is a need for more companies to offer student shadowing.
Laurie found her passion the hard way. Because of her own experience, she wants to motivate children and young adults to learn STEAM skills while they’re still in school.
“Going to work should not feel like work. My passion is to help others find the right career.”