Rebecca Reck is a Senior Systems Engineer in the Automatic Flight Control Systems and Software group at Rockwell Collins. She designs and tests equipment for airplanes in computer simulations and on real ones. Her hobbies include photography, playing flute and handbells, and taking free online computer science courses in Artificial Intelligence. This letter is cross-posted on her blog at www.rebeccaee.com.
Dear Becky at age 10,
You will go to a lot of interesting places that you cannot even imagine right now if you use your strengths and passions.
My first piece of advice is to find a way to use your strengths. You are good at math and science and best of all you like to do it. This makes them two of your strengths so put them to good use. You also like computers and learning how they work. Do not get too frustrated if you do not understand computer programming the first or even second time through, it will eventually make sense because your persistence will pay off.
Next, follow your passions, this may seem like the first piece of advice, but it is slightly different. You have a passion for solving problems and learning new things, both of these will serve you well. Engineering is all about solving problems and because the world around you will be constantly changing there are always new things to learn. Be on the lookout for new passions, you never know when a class or a professor will introduce you to something that you love to do. By the time you graduate from college you will have a third passion for controls. At this point you have never been on an airplane, however this new passion will lead to your first job teaching airplanes how to fly and land themselves. Also, do not ever lose your curiosity it will keep you asking questions which will help you learn new things.
Now find a path that will combine your strengths and your passions. I will not lie, that path will have some bumps and is bound to make a few left turns along the way, but it is totally worth it. Electrical Engineering is not the easiest major in college, but it can be rewarding. It combines math, science, computers, and problem solving in pretty awesome ways. It is everything that you love to do–keep that in mind when assignments get tough.
You will go on to graduate from high school and college with honors. After that you will find a great job that will pay you to use your strengths and your passions. This job will give you the opportunity to design and test equipment for airplanes in computer simulations and on real airplanes. Your passion for learning will also drive you to complete a master’s degree in electrical engineering and even consider a Ph.D. Along the way you will meet some great mentors with excellent advice, learn from them.
You will continue to find places to learn after college, like engineering conferences. Recently, I attended a session where Kim Groshek, another woman scientist, said, “No journey is too risky if you have the knowledge, courage, and determination to stay on course.” The main theme of her presentation was to define success on your own terms and that is one of the best pieces of advice I have heard recently. At every point in your life success will mean something different: in college success might be as simple as completing another quarter with a GPA above 3.0. Once you graduate success might be finishing a project at work or getting a promotion. At some point you might also decide that industry is not the right place for you to be, and success will all of a sudden be something completely different. For Kim success has come in many different ways from writing children’s books, to producing movies, to working on computers for the State of Wisconsin. The point is that it is different for everyone and can change at any time, so define what it means for you right now and stick to it.
Finally, try to not worry about the people who call you a nerd or a geek. The further you move along in life following your passions the more new people you will meet who are like you. When you go to a school that only has engineering, science, and math, you will find a lot of new friends who will appreciate you for who you are. These are the friends who will stick with you for life. You will find an organization called the Society of Women Engineers; it is full of women like you and they will inspire you. The most important thing is to be true to yourself, because your opinion is the only one that matters.
The bottom line is that if you follow your passions, use your strengths, and put your mind to it, there is no limit to what you can achieve.
Have fun and good luck,
Rebecca (Johnson) Reck (age 28)
Rebecca (Johnson) Reck is a Senior Systems Engineer in the Automatic Flight Control Systems and Software group at Rockwell Collins. The position includes development of requirements, control laws, and tests of Flight Control Systems for business and regional jet aircraft. She earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 2005 and a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Iowa State University in 2010. Rebecca’s research interests include controls, signal processing, and robotics. Her hobbies include photography, playing flute and handbells, and taking free online computer science courses in Artificial Intelligence. More information at http://www.rebeccaee.com