I am so excited to share with you an interview with a friend and former colleague, Dr. Whitney B. Gaskins for my STEM Careers Interview Series. Dr. Gaskins is the Assistant Dean for Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement in the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) at the University of Cincinnati. As Assistant Dean, Dr. Gaskins is an engineering educator and also serves as an advocate for students, specifically minorities and women in UC CEAS.
An engineering educator is a person who is an engineering course instructor at a college or higher education institution. They provide students with the knowledge and skills to become engineers. Engineering educators typically require an advanced specialized degree (such as a Masters or Doctorate degree).
I am so excited to share Dr. Gaskins STEM story because we were both undergraduate students in the college of engineering at the University of Cincinnati at the same time and we also both worked together as Quality Engineers at Toyota. She is an incredibly talented, intelligent, self-motivated, motivating, inspiring and passionate woman. Like many of the STEM Career Interview Series I’ve shared, I feel that she is a great role model and STEM ambassador.
Momgineering the Future (MTF): When and how did you become interested in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields? Do you have a specific memory or event that happened in your life that helped you choose your career path?
Dr. Gaskins: I loved learning and tinkering at an early age. I remember deciding I wanted to be an engineer because of a Time magazine article on a new upcoming field called Biomedical Engineering. I felt like it blended all things I loved to learn.
MTF: Growing up, what were your favorite subjects and why?
Dr. Gaskins: My favorite classes were science classes, especially if they had a lab. I loved learning through doing things.
MTF: In your own words, how would you describe engineering to a child?
Dr. Gaskins: I often tell little ones that engineers are problem solvers. We see how we can improve the world and work to develop solutions to make those changes.
MTF: What did you study in college and how / why did you choose it/them?
Dr. Gaskins: I studied Biomedical Engineering and it was the best decision. I loved learning about the body and how it works.
MTF: What is your current occupation and how would you briefly describe it?
Dr. Gaskins: I am an engineering educator and help run my College. I help minority students and women get into College and have a good experience when they are there.
MTF: What was your college / university experience like as a student?
Dr. Gaskins: College was a wonderful experience. I made lifelong friends and found my voice. I know I didn’t have the traditional college life. I had to work full time and go to school sometimes working 2 full time jobs because of co-op.
MTF: What roles / job titles have you had in the engineering profession and how would you describe them?
Dr. Gaskins: I have worked as a Quality Engineer with Toyota, the car company. I worked in a group that made sure that the cars were reliable and lasted a long time. Then I became a professor where I taught college students how to become engineers. I then moved into my role as an Assistant Dean where I help the college support our students.
MTF: What made you decide to pursue advanced degrees in education (masters & doctorate)? Why did you choose to pursue a career in engineering education?
Dr. Gaskins: I decided to pursue advanced degrees because I wanted to become an expert in my fields. Advanced degrees allow you to specialize in a particular area. I wanted to pursue a career in Engineering Education because it allows me to have the best of both worlds. I help determine what information the students learn about in engineering and determine how they will learn it.
MTF: In your opinion, what are the most important attributes or characteristics that an engineer or engineering educator must have to be successful?
Dr. Gaskins: The most important attribute that an engineer or engineering educator must have is the ability to problem solve. The problems of today require creative solutions and engineers must deliver them.
MTF: Do you feel that your studies and experiences in college are helpful to you in your career now? How or why? What were most beneficial to you?
Dr. Gaskins: My co-op work experiences were the most beneficial. They allowed me to apply the lessons I was learning in class in a real-world environment.
MTF: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
Dr. Gaskins: I now work in a field where I can get instant gratification. I have been able to help students matriculate through programs while providing them with a safe space.
MTF: What has been the most challenging part of your career?
Dr. Gaskins: The most challenging part of my career is helping fight for equality for minorities and women against systems that often do not value their contributions.
MTF: What is one of your most fun, exciting or even embarrassing memories in your career?
Dr. Gaskins: The most exciting memory was winning a teaching award for a class we created from scratch that merged Engineering and Art.
MTF: What would your advice be to parents and / or educators to help children build confidence and interest in the STEM fields?
Dr. Gaskins: There is a myth that students who go into STEM have to be the most brilliant minds in the classroom. That is not my story. It is most important to have appreciation for the topics and be willing to put in the work to master them.
MTF: What advice do you have for children that are interested in pursuing a career in engineering?
Dr. Gaskins: Find some clubs, like Robotics and Coding that peak and keep your interest. Never lose your desire to dream build. Engineering is simply taking a big dream and creating the plan to bring the dream to reality.
MTF: What advice do you have for a student that is interested in pursuing a career in engineering education?
Dr. Gaskins: Go for it. It is the perfect blend of learning about engineering and learning about education. It can have an immediate impact on others.
MTF: If you have anything else that you would like to add, please include it here.
Dr. Gaskins: Go for your dreams, don’t stop dreaming.
I am so grateful to Dr. Gaskins for allowing me to interview her for my STEM Career Interview Series. One part that really resonated with me was when she mentioned that there is a myth out there that you must be brilliant in the classroom to be successful in STEM. This was not my story either. I loved science and I loved hands on learning. Once I began my cooperative education (co-op) experiences, I was able to more easily apply some of my classroom knowledge to my field of work. Co-op helped encourage me to continue my engineering education and attain my degree. So, my biggest advice to high school students selecting a college in a STEM field is to try to find a university / college that strongly supports and is set up to allow you to have co-op experiences.
As you may know, females and minorities are still under-represented in the STEM fields, especially in engineering. I love that Dr. Gaskins is also using her knowledge and experiences to help encourage, pave the path and support the next generation of women and minority engineers in her role as Assistant Dean.
In her spare time, she is also a wife and busy mother to an increasingly active little boy and runs her own non-profit, The Gaskins Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate and empower the African-American community.
Thank you to Dr. Gaskins for sharing your STEM story! If you are inspired to share your STEM story, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Images were provided to me by Dr. Gaskins for use in this post.