Quick! Name your favorite diva in music or movies. Done? Now name your favorite diva who is also an engineer.
Stumped? Don’t worry. You won’t be for long because Shawna Stepp-Jones’s new Divaneering system is about to change all that.
When Stepp-Jones found out that she had run unopposed as Miss Maryland Plus America in 2013, she thought the pageant would be just the vehicle to take her show on the road.
“I’d been planning Divaneeing since 2008,” Stepp-Jones explained.
Holding the title beauty queen and an engineer would help break down stereotypes, she imagined. “I am hoping that girls see female engineers as fabulous, diva licious, and diva rific.”
Growing up, Stepp-Jones admits she was just not that into science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).
“I was more passionate about fashion and beauty,” she said. “Over time, I began to understand how important STEM is and how we as women and us as minorities are alarmingly underrepresented. So what better way to marry my two passions to change lives?”
Stepp-Jones, the daughter of a social worker, earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Morgan State University. While at Morgan, she was active in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter and helped to give budding women engineers like her a unique place and voice within the engineering industry. During her senior year, she served as vice president of SWE at Morgan State.
After graduation in 2008, Stepp-Jones took an entry-level position at Northrop Grumman as a junior engineer and later earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Engineering for professionals in technical management with a concentration in project management.
Throughout her early-career years and graduate school, Stepp-Jones carried a dream to marry her passions. The opportunity came along when she achieved the coveted status as 2013 Maryland delegate for Miss Plus America. Stepp-Jones decided it was time to take it to the next level.
The Divaneering Foundation, a community and educational outreach charity, is sponsored by Miss Maryland Plus America 2013. The goal of the foundation is to partner with schools and organizations to promote STEM education and career paths for young girls through fashion, health and beauty design challenges that focus on using core STEM subject matter. Some of the key components include mentoring and innovative applications of learning STEM.
Divaneering encourages young people to design products which gets them to explore the science, technology, engineering and math behind everyday health and beauty items like lipstick and hair conditioner. In one demo, Stepp-Jones challenged students to make lipstick out of crayons.
“I was even able to get the boys to take part,” Jones said. Science is for everyone!”
Making lipstick exposes young people to chemistry; knowledge of what goes into hair conditioners exposes them to chemistry and biology, and crafting LED earrings gives them insights into electric circuits and components, Jones said. Divaneering demonstrations are constructed to engage the young by capturing their interest visually, she explained.
Jones worked with Baltimore artist Bryan Scott, whose mother and father both happen to be electrical engineers, to design trendy attire and decor for her STEM-based presentations at the BEYA STEM Conference.
In all, about 60 students from William Wirt Middle School and Classical Conversations (CC) took part in the demos.
CC is a program for students aged 4-18 and is designed to provide a place for home-schooled children to come twice a week for instruction, recreation, and interaction with other home-school students. Several of them are interested in engineering, fashion design, and technology as career choices.
“I asked the kids in the beginning what they aspire to be professionally and then revisit the same question after the presentation. If I had to guess, about 60 percent change their minds to a STEM profession. One student changed her mind from professional ice skater to a Divaneer,” Stepp-Jones said.
Stepp-Jones believes that those seeking to engage children in STEM projects must be innovative and creative. Just as technology gets outdated so do one’s approach in engaging children, she said. Although helpful, Stepp-Jones said she knew conventional bridge construction and robotic challenges used to introduce her to STEM was not the way she wanted to go.
“You have to do what you love in everything that you do,” she said.
When she’s not talking trademarks in her day job as a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent Office, Jones is busy patenting her very own divaneering system.