Michelle Kyin: Working for women in STEM

For this mechanical engineer, a passion for building includes creating a more vibrant environment for women in science.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a jewelry designer. That was a little too artsy for my practical dad, so I began thinking about other jobs that would allow me to support myself, yet still allow me to be creative and hands-on with my work. Mechanical engineering seemed a good fit, and I went to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon University.

I had several internships, but there were a lot of challenges. I’d usually be the only – or one of the only – female engineers at an organization or in my group. Though I knew I’d be moving on soon, being one of the few women in those environments impacted my ability to feel confident in my role and work. When I brought up these issues with the hope to improve conditions for future females I was often met with resistance.

This is why company culture is important to me and one of the reasons I’ve stayed at SRI. I was immediately struck by how humble and nice everyone was during my panel interview. I could envision myself working with everyone here. Two years on, I work in SRI’s Applied Physics Laboratory at our Menlo Park, Ca. campus. I design 3D models using SolidWorks software, work on novel communication systems, and use rapid prototyping techniques to build projects. I’m also working to help productize Taurus, SRI’s tele-operated robot system. I enjoy the variety of projects – the diversity keeps things interesting.

I’m fortunate to also split my time supporting SRI’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work as well as recruiting. I’m passionate about supporting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). That’s why I co-founded SRI’s Women in STEM employee resource group. The goal of the group is to support fellow women in STEM, advocate for one another, and foster a positive work culture. On the recruiting team, I attend career fairs and talk to people about the projects I’m working on and what their day-to-day life could be if they came to work here. Connecting with people is my favorite part of this role.

My advice to women who want to pursue a STEM career is to reach out to people, ask questions, and go for what you want. I’ve had bad experiences because of my gender in this field, but there have also been key people in my career who helped me push past those and find my footing. I’d love to be that same source of support for upcoming engineers. Overall, I feel like I’ve done a lot of things at SRI that I’m proud of and passionate about — and wouldn’t have had the freedom to do anywhere else.

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