Andrea Kostopoulos graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Boston University in 2012. She is now a validation engineer at Haemonetics, a blood and plasma supply company. Rachel Horsting, a Boston area science writer with a special interest in science education, interviewed her this summer. She also penned an article about alum Daria Turner. Follow Rachel @racherin
Andrea Kostopoulos started tinkering at a young age. She first learned to take things apart and fix them with her grandfather, helping him with broken doorbells and loose steps. As she got older, her familiarity with tools, electronics, and gears laid the foundation for her participation in robotics and rocketry, eventually leading her to a career as an engineer.
Like many young students, Andrea’s mother signed her up for a variety of activities. Andrea and her mother discovered Science Club for Girls around 2nd or 3rd grade. “Working her way up to Junior Assistant,” Andrea was able to start teaching students herself when she was a 7th grader.
Andrea was busy after school. Most of her extracurricular activities in science centered around robotics and rocketry. In a Lego Robotics camp at Tufts she worked in groups to solve weekly challenges. It was there she discovered her path as an engineer, because she loved iterative problem solving. The robotics camp led to model rocketry, where mechanics, electronics, and programming were all combined to create working rockets. The Science Club for Girls enabled her to share her expertise from rocket club by purchasing the same materials and software, so that she could replicate the lessons for her peers. She was able to solidify her knowledge by leading her classmates, and inspiring them with her enthusiasm.
Throughout high school and college, the Science Club for Girls offered her the grooming and sponsorship that female students often miss. Staff members and mentors alerted Andrea to opportunities for competitions, scholarships, and submitted her as a special nominee for an internship at Genzyme. Although Andrea earned her place on her own merits, she credits the Science Club with encouraging her to apply.
The Lego Robotics camp at Tufts led to a science project on the Principles of Technology. Science Club for Girls got her in touch with students at MIT to guide her as she answered the question “How far can model rockets go?” First she modeled it mathematically, then ran tests to see if her models were correct. The project took third place nationally at a skills and leadership conference run by Skills USA.
Although rockets inspired her through high school, when the time came to choose a major at Boston University, aeronautical engineering seemed too narrow. The advisor assured her she could mark “undecided,” but Andrea explained, “I’m not one of those people who likes to stay undecided. I decided on mechanical [engineering] so I could learn a little of everything. Something broad…with more learning opportunities.”
Reflecting now with several years in the workforce, she said “It was a good choice; it opened up a lot of doors.”
Andrea had chosen a subfield of engineering with very few female students. Sticking with her major was the most challenging part of her career so far. “Lots and lots of people dropped out, resulting in fewer and fewer females in the program…It’s not the same as for guys: you feel as if you get treated a little differently.”
When asked why she thought her colleagues switched majors, she couldn’t pinpoint any one thing. The coursework in the different subfields was nearly identical, and all equally rigorous. The environment, however, seemed to gradually wore female students down.
“It was probably a combination of being discouraged, and they probably thought there were other majors where they could feel better and connect with more people…There were more women in biomedical engineering.”
“Through the Science Club I saw a lot of people who had been through this. They all had the same thing to overcome, it’s just one step in life.” It was as if all the hard work of previous generations supported her throughout her education.
Now, as a successful engineer at Haemonetics, an international medical supply company for blood related products, she says, “I can say I am one of those females who overcame all these challenges.” Within two years she went from a locally based quality engineer to running international quality control at the corporate level.
Andrea hopes to stay involved with the Science Club for Girls as a mentor herself. She considers the role models she met there the most important reason she did Science Club.
“Without the mentors, there wouldn’t have been a Science Club.”