Mohanalatha Pamajala from American Heritage Schools, Broward Campus, On How We Can Increase Girls' Participation in Engineering and Robotics
Mohanalatha Pamajala from American Heritage Schools, Broward Campus, On How We Can Increase Girls' Participation in Engineering and Robotics
Mohanalatha Pamajala from American Heritage Schools, Broward Campus, On How We Can Increase Girls' Participation in Engineering and Robotics
(Interview for Authority Magazine With Vanessa Ogle) Despite the growing importance of engineering and robotics in shaping our future, women remain significantly underrepresented in these fields. This series aims to explore and address the barriers that discourage girls from pursuing careers in engineering and robotics. We are talking to educators, industry leaders, pioneering women engineers, and robotics experts who have made significant contributions to their fields, to discuss the strategies they believe can inspire and increase the participation of young girls in engineering and robotics.  As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Mohanalatha Pamajala, Director of the Pre-Engineering Program at American Heritage Schools, Broward Campus.
 
Mrs. Pamajala is an educator driven by over two decades of passion for teaching advanced placement physics and engineering courses. Holding a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from India and a master's degree in Technical Education from the College of Saint Rose, Albany, New York, she has dedicated herself to empowering students through knowledge and innovation. Certified in various courses with Project Lead the Way, a nationally recognized pre-engineering program for high schools, she has continually sought avenues to enhance learning experiences. A decade ago, she established GEMS – Girls Excelling in Math and Science, a club aimed at igniting young minds and fostering interest in engineering and technology among girls. She firmly believes that nurturing curiosity and passion for STEM begins in the elementary years. By providing exposure to female role models and engaging, stimulating classes at the elementary and middle school levels, we can empower girls to thrive in these fields and overcome stereotypes. Outside the classroom, she finds joy in culinary arts, tending to her garden, and indulging in various crafts that keep her mind sharp and focused.
 
Mohanalatha Pamajala from American Heritage Schools, Broward Campus, On How We Can Increase Girls' Participation in Engineering and Robotics

 
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
The torch of teaching burns brightly in the luminous saga of my family's legacy. With my grandfather's deft hand guiding high school students through the labyrinth of math and my father's scholarly prowess illuminating the corridors of college mathematics, my passion for education was sown within me. Their profound influence ignited a fervent desire to embark on the noble journey of teaching, carrying forward the tradition of inspiring and shaping young minds.
 
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
As an electrical and electronics engineer lecturing in Chennai's esteemed electrical engineering department, the prospect of relocating to the United States initially conjured visions of falling into the stereotypical role of an IT professional. Yet, my journey took an unexpected turn as I discovered the vibrant tapestry of college teaching in America, distinct from the educational landscape I knew in India. In the land renowned for its boundless opportunities, a headline one morning caught my eye: a glaring shortage of teachers in crucial fields like math, science, and career and technical education. It was then that I realized the potential to weave my expertise into the fabric of inspiring young minds in engineering, a dynamic and rewarding career pathway.
 
What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering or robotics, and how can we replicate that inspiration for young girls?
Fascinated by the realms of math, physics, chemistry and biology, I found myself enthralled by the intricate beauty of STEM subjects. In high school, my teachers served as catalysts, igniting my passion to pursue engineering at the university level. Recognizing the pivotal role of inspirational educators, particularly in fields traditionally underrepresented by women, their guidance played a crucial role in empowering girls to pursue their academic and professional aspirations in STEM.
 
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In the constellation of my life's guiding stars, my father, a luminary with a doctorate in mathematics, and my mother, a homemaker wielding a master's degree in accounting, stand as the most cherished figures. Their unwavering belief in my potential to find success and happiness through an engineering degree and a teaching career has been an enduring source of gratitude and inspiration. Moreover, the unwavering support of my spouse, who not only made my dreams of pursuing a teaching career after marriage a reality but also embraced the journey of relocating to the United States, adds another layer of profound appreciation to the tapestry of my life's blessings.
 
Can you share a story of a challenge you faced as a woman in engineering or robotics and how you overcame it?
Navigating the intersection of being petite and pursuing engineering presented its own set of challenges. As we delved into carpentry and metal shop classes in college, lab technicians doubted my physical capabilities, suggesting that crafting wood or metal joints might be beyond my strength. Initially daunting, I resolved to prove them wrong through grit and determination, earning exemplary remarks on assignments and changing their perceptions. Similarly, at my first job as a quality analyst, supervisors underestimated my abilities solely based on gender in a bustling, male-dominated environment where women's voices were often silenced. Undeterred, I embraced the mantra that actions speak louder than words. Through unwavering dedication and expertise in my field, I shattered stereotypes and earned respect. Even as I transitioned into a lecturing role, facing skepticism from my father's colleagues about my ability to handle college students, I remained steadfast in my commitment to excellence. By consistently demonstrating a strong work ethic and depth of knowledge, I transcended these challenges and carved my path to success.
 
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Bhagavad Gita, a profound spiritual text, holds immense significance in my life, resonating deeply with its timeless wisdom and teachings. Among its invaluable lessons is the principle of "karmanyevadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana," which emphasizes the importance of focusing on our duties without being attached to the outcomes. Another guiding principle is the alignment of thought, speech and action, encapsulated in the verse "yogasthah kuru karmani," highlighting the necessity of maintaining harmony between our inner intentions and outward conduct. These teachings serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward living a life of integrity, purpose and spiritual fulfillment.
 
Do you have a favorite "Life Lesson Quote"? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
My favorite quote, coined by Mahatma Gandhi, is: 'Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.' This resonates deeply with my teaching career, as I believe imparting this wisdom to future citizens is essential. 
 
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As an instructor of engineering courses in middle and high school, my influence extends far beyond the confines of the classroom. I not only impart technical knowledge but also instill values of innovation, collaboration and ethical responsibility in the minds of future engineers. Through hands-on projects, critical thinking exercises and real-world applications, I empower students to address global challenges such as sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy solutions.
 
Additionally, by fostering a culture of inclusivity and diversity, I contribute to breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Ultimately, by equipping my students with the skills and mindset to make positive contributions to society, I play a pivotal role in shaping a better, brighter future for our world.
 
My involvement with American Heritage Schools has allowed me to establish the Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS) club, dedicated to empowering girls in engineering and robotics for nearly a decade. Through this club, I ignite interest among lower school girls by conducting 30-minute building workshops, sparking passion for engineering in young minds. Furthermore, I facilitate connections among girls who share similar interests and enthusiasm for engineering and technology fields.
 
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this report, only about 16% of engineering positions in the US are held by women. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women.  In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from Engineering and Robotics?
In my perspective, women remain central to the nurturing of families and the upbringing of children, drawing from personal experiences and observations. Despite strides in women's empowerment over time, the years between 2019 and 2023 marked a period of unprecedented global turmoil due to the pandemic. This challenging era forced many into remote work arrangements, presenting distinct hurdles, particularly for working women juggling professional obligations alongside caregiving responsibilities at home. Nevertheless, women have showcased remarkable resilience and adaptability amidst these circumstances, albeit amidst heightened pressures. As they navigate the complexities of both work and family life in the virtual realm, their determination shines through. Moreover, fostering a passion for engineering among young girls holds promise in addressing the longstanding underrepresentation of women in the workforce. Through early encouragement and support, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and balanced future in the fields of STEM.
 
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should enter the Engineering and Robotics fields?
Encouraging women to enter engineering fields is crucial for promoting diversity and fostering varied perspectives when tackling complex problems. Embracing a range of viewpoints enhances creativity and innovation, ultimately leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions. By welcoming more women into engineering, we cultivate an environment where diverse talents and perspectives are valued, driving progress and advancements that benefit society as a whole.
 
Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share “5 Things We Need To Increase Girls' Participation in Engineering and Robotics?” If you can, please share an example or story for each.
 
1. Inspire young girls in elementary school to find purpose in their learning journey.
 
2. Help them recognize how their education connects to their lives and future dreams.
 
3. Encourage them to link what they're studying to what excites them and what they hope to achieve.
 
4. Nurture their natural curiosity and encourage exploration.
 
5. Empower them to ask questions, seek answers, and make a positive impact in their communities and the world.
 
For instance, integrate problem-based and project-based learning into lessons. For example, when teaching perimeter and surface area formulas, have students apply these concepts to real-life scenarios, like calculating fencing for a backyard or determining paint needed for a room. This approach not only enhances understanding but also makes learning relevant and engaging, igniting a deeper passion for mastering new knowledge.
 
In your opinion, what are the most effective ways to introduce girls to engineering and robotics at an early age?
Organizing 30-minute building workshops focused on creating 3D models or engineering specialties is an excellent way to inspire 8 to 10-year-olds to explore the field of engineering. For instance, guiding them through building a simple 3D model of a shape and then 3D printing it can ignite their interest in engineering. Additionally, introducing them to activities such as constructing a catapult with pencils and rubber bands can introduce them to the concepts of mechanical engineering. Moreover, demonstrating how an optical sensor can activate a motor can pique their curiosity about programming tasks involving hardware sensors and motors. By engaging them in hands-on activities that blend creativity with problem-solving, we can inspire young minds to explore the diverse and exciting world of engineering.
 
How do you think the portrayal of women in STEM fields by media and educational materials impacts girls' interest in engineering and robotics?
The portrayal of women in STEM fields by media and educational materials has a profound impact on shaping girls' interest in engineering and robotics. In today's digital age, where schoolchildren rely heavily on videos and educational materials provided in their classrooms, exposure to empowering narratives of women in STEM can play a crucial role in inspiring the next generation of female engineers.
 
By highlighting the achievements and contributions of women in STEM through engaging and purposeful content, we can nurture the aspirations of young minds and cultivate a future generation of strong and empowered women engineers. This deliberate effort to promote women's representation in STEM fields not only challenges stereotypes but also fosters a more inclusive and diverse learning environment, ultimately leading to greater participation and success for girls in engineering and robotics.
 
What advice would you give to girls who are interested in engineering and robotics but are hesitant to take the first step?
 
Don't shy away from embracing your uniqueness. Embrace the challenge of being one of the few girls in physics and math classes, delving into the foundational principles of engineering. Seek guidance and support from female role models who have paved the way before you. Harness your natural leadership skills to carve out your path in the exciting realms of engineering and robotics, shaping a future that aligns with your aspirations and passions.
 
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
 
I am committed to creating an empowering program exclusively for girls, offering problem-based and project-based science and math classes that highlight the core principles of engineering. From elementary school through college, these engaging activities will ignite a passion for the field in every student. Moreover, I will provide access to female mentors who will offer guidance and inspiration throughout their journey in engineering and robotics. Additionally, empowering sessions will equip them with the skills to balance their professional responsibilities with caregiving duties at home, ensuring their success as women engineers. Together, we will cultivate a supportive and inclusive environment where girls can thrive and excel in the world of 
STEM.
 
How can our readers further follow your work online?
 
I don't currently use any online platforms, but you can always reach out to me using my teaching identity for any future discussions on women in engineering. Feel free to connect with me anytime, and I'll be happy to engage in further conversations on this important topic.
 
To learn more about American Heritage Schools’ STEM Program, please visit https://www.ahschool.com/stem-program-2022-2023