LeaderShape Visionary

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Last February, I had the good fortune to attend a reception honoring students involved in Georgia Tech's LeaderShape initiative. Guests were invited to critique the students' proposed visions and associated goals and objectives. A few things struck me. One, students are so lucky to have the opportunity to actively participate in a college program which promotes teamwork, vision and leadership skills. This will definitely help them not only at Tech but after they graduate. Two, these students benefit from using their college experiences, both in and out of class, to develop their visions and literally practice their ideas. This is a win-win for Tech and the students. Third, the magnitude and potential impact of the visions presented. These visions have the potential to change the world as we know it today.

Melissa Watkins, a fourth-year electrical engineering student at Tech, is leading the way with her LeaderShape vision of "Empowering women in math and science within the United States." Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss this vision with Melissa. Excerpts from our conversation are below.

What is LeaderShape and how did you get involved?
LeaderShape is a 6-day intensive workshop whose curriculum focuses on three important aspects of leadership - vision, teamwork and leading with integrity. The program helped me identify my passions, mold these passions into a vision, and transform my vision into a reality. I think a lot of students benefit from learning how to actualize their vision and implementing the leadership skills involved in the process. I became involved with LeaderShape right before my senior year at Tech.

How did you find your vision?
In the seventh grade, I attended a program at the University of Texas promoting women in engineering. The experience sparked an interest and is a large reason why I am an engineer today. Since then, I have tried to find ways to create and share this same interest with younger female students and encourage them to continue with math and science. I was very fortunate to grow up with this experience, and I realized how few females studied these fields. I think part of the issue is a lot of women aren't aware of the creative and really rewarding aspects of engineering and they don't have the confidence to enter this discipline which is male dominated. My goal is to change that.

How are you changing that?
I am the co-chair for Georgia Tech's Society of Women Engineers (SWE) high school outreach program. This one-day program targets female high school students in Georgia and Alabama, introducing them to the possibilities of engineering. This experience has been very rewarding to everyone involved. It gives young students thinking about college the opportunity to discuss engineering with current female engineering students as well as professionals already in the field. The high school students also have opportunities to learn about the different branches of engineering and take tours of Georgia Tech labs, plus enjoy a fun, hands-on engineering design project.

What have you learned as being part of SWE?
For one, the problem is not that females are not interested in engineering- there simply is not enough awareness about the field. The Georgia Tech SWE chapter has made outreach a primary focus. Our chapter has existed at Georgia Tech since 1955 and has hosted a variety of outreach programs over the years. In recent years, we have had perhaps 60 high school females participate on an annual basis. This past fall, however, we received more than 400 applicants! Consequently, we added a second program in the spring based on this increased demand. Another learning experience came from co-chairing with a very bright freshman student Sona Shah, who brought a fresh and younger perspective. This relationship has provided opportunities for me to mentor-an additional leadership experience which I have enjoyed.

Congratulations on graduating this May - what is next?
I landed a great job at National Instruments in Austin, Texas. They develop graphical programming software and modular, open hardware for engineers and scientists. In addition, they have an educational interest -they develop technology driven products for middle and high school students. I look forward to the possibility of carrying on my vision as I go into the work force.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Rachael Pocklington
  • Created:04/02/2009
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016