Future engineer enhances skills through mentoring
Published November 2017
Olivia Gravel had the confidence to pursue a major in engineering because she had good mentors and she had the opportunity to participate in engineering activities while she was growing up.
She is now a senior at NDSU and recognizes how those factors contributed to her success in a major that still tends to attract more men than women. That has motivated her to be actively involved in engineering outreach programs that have also given her hands-on experience to take into her future career.
Gravel’s first mentor was her father, who was a high school principal in her hometown of West Fargo. He inspired her to always look for ways to do things safer, better and more cost-effectively. He ingrained in her the qualities of organization and efficiency.
Those qualities helped spark an interest in engineering.
“Some people think engineering is solely math and science,” Gravel said. “I do more communication and problem-solving than anything. You need to develop and use those skills.”
She got further mentorship when, as a middle-schooler, Gravel participated in BEST Robotics. The annual event, hosted by the NDSU College of Engineering, is a hands-on, real-world, engineering-based robotics competition for middle and high school students. Gravel learned from professional engineers who advised her team, and she developed leadership skills.
Today, Gravel is president of the NDSU student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. The group’s 100-plus members work with faculty, staff and corporate partners to attract women who are considering engineering and other STEM fields.
Together, Society of Women Engineers and College of Engineering outreach programs reach more than 3,500 students and hundreds of their teachers each year. Gravel and her peers gain experience organizing events and communicating complex ideas in simple terms. They also work side-by-side with professional engineers and mentors.
Gravel is paying-it-forward with mentorship to inspire the next generation of female engineering students. Each Monday, Gravel participates in TECHGirls, a 10-week after-school program for area third, fourth and fifth graders. One week they create bridges out of sticks. The next they build and shoot off rockets.
“Engineering is not always math or the hard sciences,” Gravel said. “It’s about fun and experimentation. Failure and creativity. Our task is to help encourage, empower and challenge girls to consider engineering.”
She also volunteers at BEST Robotics and numerous other events. Her outreach work combined with her classroom education at NDSU are preparing her for a career. She’s currently an intern at Integrity Windows and Doors where she’s learning how production processes are developed and improvements are made.
Her dream job is working for Disney. She always has been amazed at both how theme park rides are designed and how efficiently the parks function. “They move thousands of people so fluidly while making and maintaining that wonder and magic for the kids,” Gravel said.
Until then, Gravel wants to instill a wonder for engineering in the next generation of students.
“Our goal is to introduce girls to the STEM disciplines, give them hands-on experience and make possible positive interactions with female engineering role models.”