The year of Barbie began with a summer of pink hues and all things girlie. This blockbuster movie reflected, strangely enough, opportunities for women in every industry. Similarly, education in America brings science, technology, engineering and math into focus with a message for girls – you can be anything you want to be.
Cut to Arkansas Department of Transportation Assistant Chief Engineer for Program Delivery Keli Wylie who is this year’s Museum of Discovery Spark! Chairman. Keli discovered engineering in high school through a family friend and local contractor. She shares her enthusiasm with young women through the museum’s Girls in STEM program and encourages them to pursue dreams of their own.
“It was something I’d never considered before,” Keli elaborates. “I didn’t know any female engineers growing up, and it wasn’t an occupation widely promoted as a possibility. I began looking into the curriculum and decided I could do it. Fortunately, I was selected to interview with Arkansas Department of Transportation while still in college, and I accepted a position with the agency in December 2001.”
A Pine Bluff native, Keli attended Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and graduated with a degree in civil engineering. Much like Barbie, Keli is a firm believer in the adage, “if you can see it, you can be it.” She continues, “If girls are not exposed to STEM careers, they won’t know these pathways exist for them. I believe part of this issue stems from lack of accessibility to options in STEM careers to young girls, but programs like Museum of Discovery’s Girls in STEM and Tinkerfest are helping bridge that gap.”
Keli became involved with Girls in STEM several years ago when a friend suggested becoming a mentor. “I jumped at the opportunity to be involved and introduce STEM-related fields to young girls!” she reflects. “I was able to plan out a fun, hands-on activity to share engineering concepts with the girls. I also participated in Tinkerfest, and last year, I was a Spark! Stars honoree.”
Spark! Stars are innovators of STEM and will be celebrated at the annual luncheon. The Spark! Gala is an interactive evening of lively demonstrations with libations and light bites. The fun and festivities serve as a timely reminder; Museum of Discovery CEO Kelley Bass elaborates. “Studies show informal STEM/STEAM institutions, such as museums, play a key role in building a strong STEM workforce by supplementing the concepts students learn in school while opening their eyes to exciting career paths in engineering, tech, medicine and more. Spark! allows guests to experience the museum and our mission, with a cocktail in hand, while supporting our beloved institution.” Keli adds, “It starts with educating the adults in our lives, who then filter down the confidence and support to our young girls to achieve their dreams and not let traditionally male-dominated careers intimidate them. College gave me confidence I’m not sure I would have gained in another field of study. I was one of only three females in my graduating class in a sea of men, so I had to find my voice and trust my abilities to succeed.”