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Alecia Mack wrote this letter as she headed to the BEYA Conference for the first time, reflecting on her path in STEM.

This year marks the 33rd annual BEYA (Black Engineer of the Year Award) STEM Global Competitiveness Conference. Thirty-three years of celebrating outstanding STEM achievements. Celebrating diversity. Celebrating camaraderie and community.

As I head to the conference for the first time, I am looking forward to the people I will meet and the experiences I will gain. But I’m also reflecting on my own path in STEM.

BEYA stands for Black Engineer of the Year Award,  but their tagline of sorts is also “Becoming Everything You Are.”

As a black woman, from Milwaukee, WI, the road to becoming an engineer was not always easy. But me being me, I accepted the challenge and strived towards becoming the person I knew I was meant to be.

And, here I am today, a mechanical project engineer at an industry-leading plumbing manufacturer, being all that I could be and more … and I’m in great company. STEM is a hugely important field, growing in diversity and numbers all the time.

So, what exactly helped me get to this point? Here are some of the key things I’ve learned so far:

1. Don’t let fear stop you from being curious. If you have even a slight inkling that STEM might interest you, take every chance you can to explore. Don’t be intimidated by the word STEM, there’s so much more to the industry than just the four letters. I had somewhat of a head start at learning about STEM and understanding what careers I could pursue because I attended Bradley Tech high school, in Milwaukee, which specializes in technology and trade education. I seized the opportunity to take college-level Calculus and even graduated with certificates in welding and automatic robotics—all before even starting my bachelor’s degree.

Several years later, now in my career, I was presented a leadership development assignment to enhance the strategy, leadership, and business side of my training. Again, I went for it, and it has made all the difference, both in my career progression and my passion for engineering.

2. Find (and be) a mentor. STEM is about so much more than the work. Connecting with and learning from people who share my interests has been an incredible experience. Most recently, as I pursue my MBA, I have sought out the advice and experience of people whose work I admire, and it gives me the renewed energy and insights to keep going.

I volunteer at our local elementary schools as part of a program to expose students to STEM careers. I also participate in Kohler Co.’s Women@Work business resource group, collaborating with fellow professional women to enhance our work experience.

3. Network, network, network. Yes, what you know counts. But sometimes it really is who you know. Part of the reason I’m so excited to attend the BEYA STEM conference is the opportunity to network with people that have a similar background, and those that don’t—there’s something important to learn from both.

Even since high school, it’s been my network that has helped me move forward—informing me about open positions, recommending me for jobs and volunteer opportunities, and providing guidance when I needed it. No matter where you are in your career, it’s important to have people beside you that can speak to your work and are rooting for you.

4. Keep dreaming. I love making products come to life. From a sketch to a computer model, from prototypes to fabrications, all the way to the end consumer. This has been a dream come true for me, but it’s not my final destination. As I continue to peel back the layers, I discover more opportunities and careers where my engineering background could lead me. Engineering is more than just numbers and equations. It’s analyzing systems, predicting outcomes and managing how it all fits into the greater business objectives.

My ultimate goal is to be a vice president of engineering. A role where I can utilize my technical expertise to strategically grow the business by improving the end consumer experience, driving innovation, and focusing on associate engagement. I am fortunate to work at a company that has appointed women to such leadership roles—including the vice president of my division—and I draw motivation from that every day.

The BEYA STEM Conference culminates with the BEYA Gala, where the winner of the Black Engineer of the Year Award is announced. Many call this event the “Oscars of the STEM Industry,” with so many of the top scientists and engineers, from all different industries, in one room. A room full of successful black women and men paving the way and inspiring future leaders.

I’m thrilled, to say the least, to dive right in and BE INSPIRED! To understand their journeys, what makes them tick, and their unique passions. And to be reminded once again to never let anyone tell you that you can’t be or do something because of your gender or the color of your skin—or any other reason, for that matter.

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