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STEM Superheroes with Erin Twamley

ThinkEnergy

Release Date: 11/07/2022

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More Episodes

Did you know only 22% of workers in all energy jobs are female? Recruiting women in STEM, specifically in the energy sector, is something the industry needs to do a better job with. It’s why Erin Twamley, an award-winning author and educator, focused on women working in the energy field. Her new book, Everyday Superheroes: Women in Energy Careers, features 34 real-life superheroes who are powering our planet today. Erin joined us to share how we can do a better job of championing women in STEM. 

 

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Transcript:

Dan Seguin  00:06

This is thinkenergy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Sauinand my co-host, Rebecca Schwartz, as we explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry.

 

Dan Seguin  00:30

Hey, everyone, welcome back. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? I remember I wanted to be in the arts, a photographer or even a graphic designer. What about you, Rebecca?

 

Rebecca Schwartz  00:44

Well, when I was really little, I wanted to be an architect because I liked to draw. And then a little bit later on, I wanted to be an actress. But as I got older, I realized I didn't quite have the skills for either of those. But honestly, there were so many careers I wasn't aware of growing up - careers that I didn't even know were possible.

 

Dan Seguin  01:01

In hindsight, I know there were careers that were considered unacceptable for me to want to pursue. You look back now and realize your career choices were heavily influenced by society's expectations based solely on your gender.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  01:20

Gender is something that we've really only just begun to talk about and attempt to address in the last decade or so within the energy sector. And gender oppression, you know, brings up ideas about what's considered masculine and what's considered feminine, including the careers that we choose.

 

Dan Seguin  01:36

We've touched on this topic a few times in this podcast. But the energy sector is one of the least gender diverse industries, with women making up only 22% of workers,

 

Rebecca Schwartz  01:50

And within the energy industry, which is expected to increase capacity by 50% - by 2040 there is a huge demand for talented skilled workers. There's an untapped potential pool of young girls and young women who could consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also commonly known as STEM.

 

Dan Seguin  02:11

So, here's today's big question. How do you reach 50% of the population that identifies as female to consider a career in the exciting energy sector? A sector that is going to shape and influence the future of our planet.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  02:30

Joining us on the podcast today is Erin Twamley, an award winning book author and educator. Erin is a former Energy Education Specialist at the Department of Energy where she led energy literacy efforts for teachers and students.

 

Dan Seguin  02:45

Erin has been creating stories of women working in STEM careers through her everyday superhero book series. Her second book in the series was published in July 2022, and is designed to get elementary school children excited about careers in the energy field,

 

Rebecca Schwartz  03:05

In her children's book 'Everyday Superheroes, Woman in Energy Careers- Erin represents 34 real life Superheroes and real life women who are powering our planet today. They install solar panels, they dig wells miles into the ground, connect zigzagging power lines that charge our electronics, and drive us into the future with battery powered cars.

 

Dan Seguin  03:27

The book series is smart, relatable and inspiring, demonstrating the limitless possibility for girls in the next generation of STEM superheroes. Erin, welcome to the show.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  03:41

Perhaps you could start us off Erin by telling us a little bit about your origin story. And what inspired you to pursue a superhero career in energy yourself?

 

Erin Twamley  03:51

Well, thank you so much for having me here. today. I'm very excited to talk a little bit about my career where I do kind of storytelling, right? I'm an educator. I'm a children's book author. And I really believe that the energy sector has lots of stories to tell. And there's lots of exciting things happening whether you're climbing on top of a wind turbine, or you're building a new kind of wind farm. There are so many opportunities for kids and even caregivers and adults out there to know about because we are really on the cusp of changing how we power our planet, how we power our communities, how we power our everyday household items, from our cars to our houses, to the airplanes that we fly on.

 

Dan Seguin  04:39

Erin, you mentioned that you were an Energy Education Specialist at the Department of Energy. I think that was back in 2012 or 2016. What were you seeing in your role there and how did it influence you in your career and your books?

 

Erin Twamley  04:58

So I worked at the Department of Energy and the United States from about 2012 to 2016. And I was focused on this whole concept of energy literacy. So what do people know about the role of energy in their lives? But what do they also know about energy within a system? Right? The way we consume energy, the way that energy is produced is not in a vacuum, right? There's economic systems, there's governmental policies that influence it. And so my time there was kind of spent really figuring out, how do we diversify the clean energy workforce? And how do we do that by starting with kids? So in that K through 12 space, we call it in the US? How do we talk to teachers and students. And I think what I really found there is that there were a ton of stories in the energy sector that weren't being shared with students and teachers. And so really, my work the Department of Energy focused on energy literacy drove me to then go into the private sector and just do that storytelling full time.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  06:02

Okay, so your previous book, you focused on women in STEM, and your recent work is specifically focused on women and energy careers. Curious as to what made you zero in on the energy sector?

 

Erin Twamley  06:16

So, I think energy is one of the topics that's really largely untouched in STEM. If you look at the education system, there's a lot of talk about coding, robotics and computer science. And there's not enough emphasis on something that we use every day, right, electricity and our energy. And so this idea to focus on energy was actually a dream of my co author. And I probably for the last seven years, it's been on our mind that we wanted to focus on who are the women and energy. And it just took us some time to figure out the right partners, the right sponsors, and also, I think, the right time globally to be able to talk about clean energy and tell stories of those who are working in the clean energy space.

 

Dan Seguin  07:03

Now, women represent only 22% of workers in all energy jobs. Why are they so underrepresented?

 

Erin Twamley  07:13

So that question, I think a lot of people in the field are trying to answer. People in industry are trying to answer, and women themselves are trying to answer- right. And I don't think that there's kind of one problem or one solution, if that makes sense. But from my perspective, as a storyteller, I think what's happening is that young girls and young women and professionals don't see themselves in these energy careers, because they don't see role models who look like them. They don't know how expansive these energy and career opportunities are. Right. If you look at the traditional oil and gas sector, there was this whole stigma that these jobs are dirty, right, that they're outdoors, that they require heavy lifting, right. And so that energy sector had to go through a movement itself right to reshare. What is happening in oil and gas. Same with clean energy, there are folks thinking that you need to be able to climb to the top of a wind turbine, for example, or that you need to be an engineer and have a PhD level type education. So I think for more women's participation, we need to share the stories about what those careers are, they need to see that women are working in these different energy careers. And that these careers are from the offices to laboratories, to industry and working in the fields, there's a wide variety of jobs within the energy sector.

 

Dan Seguin  08:38

Okay, here's a follow up question for you, Erin. What are some of the most influential data points that stood out for you in your work, or research?

 

Erin Twamley  08:50

So as a writer, I often focus on reading as a whole. And so I think there's three data points that I always love to share. The number one is until students reach the age of 12, one of the biggest influences on youth perspective, and their outcomes is their family and their reading. So that connection between reading and what they read actually makes a really big impact on not only their interest in school, but what they might do as an extracurricular activity. So whether they choose that robotics after school program or not, for example, I think the second piece that's important because I think we often underestimate this is that exposure to role models at an early age actually increases both the competence and interest, especially for young girls, and by a young age. I'm talking about elementary school students, so that by bringing in a wide variety of professionals for career day, for example, that are outside of just a veterinarian, utility provider or an engineer and expanding that that exposure actually has an influence, it has an impact. And that is researched and proven. And last but not least, if there's any educators that are listening to this, I think educators have an important role in this space. Because what you decorate your classroom with, literally the posters that are used, who's depicted in the classroom, and what books are sitting on your shelf, impact your students, and whether or not they see themselves in these types of careers, whether it be STEM careers, or energy careers. So something as simple as having everyday role models or women, on your posters in your classroom, again, can make such a big impact on kids feeling like they're included, and feeling like there's a future for them and opportunities for them in these different career paths.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  10:52

Now, Erin, with your beautiful new book, which you co authored, what's your goal by telling these real life stories to children? And did you find support for the project easily?

 

11:01

So we focus on what we call everyday superheroes. So these are real women that are working in industry and this particular book, they're working in the energy industry, and we wanted them to be everyday women, we wanted kids to think about their aunts, their uncles, their cousins, their moms, their dads, their teachers, and say, Oh, hey, actually, my aunt is a nuclear engineer. I never knew what she did before. But now I can actually have a conversation and ask a question, or, you know, Mom and Dad, I didn't know you could put solar panels on a house. How cool would it be to get solar panels on our house? Is that an option? So I think the goal of these real life stories is to really help kids make a connection right to the energy that's around them in their lives. And sometimes that's clearly visible to them, they just need help making that connection. And support for this project has been overwhelming. I'll be honest, we've been very excited to both have industry partners- to have two of the leading energy education organizations in the United States that provide training for both students and teachers - be our partners on this effort. And we have a new partnership, that we're going to be working with our after school programs across the United States to make sure that this education not only happens from a book and a reading perspective, but there's some actual hands on activities that can supplement students interests, and also help hopefully spark their interest in getting into energy.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  12:39

Okay, so though it's not a one size fits all, the book is aimed at children in grades three to six. Why that age group, specifically?

 

12:48

So I think what happens especially in energy is that we target Middle School and above, and I hate to say it, but by the time kids are in second grade, they're already making decisions about whether or not they like stem, whether or not they have interests, they're already talking about their competence levels, in STEM and energy careers. And so the research and the data just shows as I shared earlier, the earlier the exposure, the better the outcome. And so this is kind of a sweet target range, because elementary teachers sometimes get some more flexibility in the United States to talk about different topics or to expand on different topics. And we really believe that if we can reach kids at this age, we can hopefully build their competence when they make choices about what STEM electives they do after school, or what clubs they participate in, or what classes they take part in during school.

 

Dan Seguin  13:46

For our listeners, perhaps you can talk about what kind of career field you focus on in your latest book, or maybe share some cool stories about the women you spotlight.

 

Erin Twamley  13:59

So what's great about the book 'Everyday Superheroes, Women in Energy Careers', and that's the full name because I think we've we've danced around a little bit today - is that there are 34 superheroes and about 20 other women's stories we share. And these are women, from technicians, to installers to researchers at some of our US National Laboratories, to CEOs who are running companies like manufacturing companies that create pistons, we've got finance managers, we've got land managers, if you think about building a wind or a solar farm that takes a lot of land that takes a lot of investment and there's an entire teams helping these energy projects happen. There are two women in particular I thought I would highlight today. One is Mackenzie Dillon who works for Hydro One. She's actually an Apprentice Powerline Technician. She's part of Women Powerline Technicians in Canada and she is I think somebody that's important to know because this pathway is sometimes seen only from the perspective of you see someone climbing a power line, or you see someone digging, but you're not really sure what they're doing or how important they are until after a storm, for example, but the powerline technicians are the people who really keep our electricity flowing in our communities, right? They are the first ones when the power goes out, or there's a potential for a power outage. And Mackenzie, what's awesome about her is that not only can she, you know, string powerline wires, but she drives a digger, for example, when she was a student, she had ADHD. So she knew that she wanted something that could be hands on and where she could be outdoors. And that this job opportunity allows her to be successful and do that. Another woman I want to highlight is a civil engineer at Firstlight Power, which actually crosses a few states in New England of the United States. She works on dams. In fact, she oversees about 12 dams on five different rivers, and one of those dams is 115 years old. So imagine that you're an engineer responsible for not only kind of the safety of that dam, but making sure that it's an operation and it's being inspected. And her name is Becky Stebbins. And so sharing a little bit about what she does on a daily basis is important for kids so that they can understand, well, how do dams work? How are they operated and who operates them? So those are just two women that I wanted to share with you today.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  16:39

In your book, you talk about the STEM superpowers that kids can develop to become STEM and energy superheroes. Can you talk to these and why they were so important to include?

 

Erin Twamley  16:49

So there's a lot of discussion, I think, especially in workforce development initiatives and industry. What skills do students need? Right? How do we prepare them for the workforce? And I think oftentimes, there is a focus on technical skills, right? You know, what does a Powerline Technician specifically need to know? What does a civil engineer specifically need to know? But these super powers kind of touch a little bit more broadly on skills like observation, collaboration, communication, problem solving, and these are really superpowers that we believe any superhero should have, and a superpower can be developed can grow over time might be used, you know, in one area of the job versus another. So these superpowers are kind of just a way for kids to get to think about themselves, and what skills they already have, and what skills they want to grow or learn more about. And it's a great way I think, to engage kids and talking about skills because we as adults use that term. But what kid wouldn't love learning about superpowers and cultivating their own superpowers?

 

Dan Seguin  18:03

Now, Erin, there is clearly a strong educational component with this book. How are you getting it into the hands of educators? And are you supporting teachers in any other ways?

 

Erin Twamley  18:17

So I along with my co author, Josh, we're both teachers by training, right. And we have another co author, Katie Bainart. And so together with our partners, what we have really done is worked to get this book into teachers hands through two organizations. One called KidWind, and one called the need project. And both of these nonprofit organizations in the United States, they train teachers on how to teach about energy, so we're partnered with them. So make sure that we can get these books directly into teachers hands that are already teaching about energy. And then we've got some awesome industry partners. And these industry partners are also helping us to distribute books, to their local schools, to their local libraries, as well as these fabulous superheroes in the book, many of them are buying copies of the book for friends or family, for Girl Scout troops, for libraries, for schools. But it's important to note that teachers also work in after school programs. And so that's the other kind of group that we want to reach our teachers that might be providing some kind of supplemental or informal education. And so we have a partnership with the After School Alliance across the United States to reach those teachers. And I know I'm talking a lot about the US because that's primarily been our focus right now. But we do expect that we can go global and that we can provide this resource to other industry partners and teachers in other countries, especially we've seen a huge push to translate this book into Spanish so that is something we are working on with our publisher,

 

Dan Seguin  20:01

Here's a follow up question. Maybe you can expand on this a bit. I read that you have sponsors and partners helping to distribute your book to more than 10,000 kids. Can you talk a bit about this initiative and why it's important to you?

 

Erin Twamley  20:18

So as an educator, I think I knew and my co author knew, we're always looking for new resources, right? We're always looking for new role models, we're looking for things to kind of supplement curriculum, right? This book is not a curriculum, it's really meant to spark kids asking questions. It's meant to get them thinking about careers and just providing role models. So we knew we needed industry partners, because they're the leaders, right? They're the ones that are trying to hire the next workforce of the future. And we knew that industry wants to play a role in education. But sometimes they don't know how. And so a book was a great opportunity to engage industry partners, and say, here's how you can make an impact in your community. Let's share the stories of your workers locally, so that people know what you're building, what you're doing, what you're creating, what you're designing. And we also have had small affinity groups. So if you think about companies, many of them have women's groups, for example, or associations that are focused on a particular community and engaging them. And so many of those, like the women's energy network in Boston, women's energy network inPittsburgh, for example, or a group called WIRE, or Women in Tech Sustainability, also want to make an impact and share this book, so we've been able to partner with them as well, to get this book into more hands.

 

Erin Twamley  21:55

Now, is there a responsibility on behalf of employers and organizations in the energy sector to do more to attract, recruit and retain the next generation of women in energy. And if so, any recommendations on what they should do to support girls and young woman?

 

Erin Twamley  22:13

So yes, I think, you know, Dan mentioned it earlier that 22% of workers and all energy jobs are female. So clearly there's a problem. Right? And clearly, the energy industry plays a role in that problem, from the recruitment side to the retention side for women, right. So I think some of the things that they need to look at are not only just the kind of the safety standards of what what's available for women, but also just opportunities for women. Are they recruiting and looking for women? Are they actively connected with their local affinity groups and women oriented professional organizations? Are they touching schools and libraries and Girl Scout troops? So I think industry has a huge and important role to play in recruiting the next clean energy workforce. I think they know that based on a lot of my conversations with industry partners, they know the problem exists, and they're trying to tackle it. The problem is that it's not a one size fits all solution for everybody, right? How you recruit and retain folks in Massachusetts is going to look significantly different than Arizona or Georgia or other parts of the United States. And as an even compared to Canada, right, because energy doesn't happen in a vacuum. There are local policies and procedures and things in place. But I think the bottom line is that industry nosing they play a role. And I think they're working on it.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  23:47

What do you think, though, are some of the biggest challenges and barriers to entry for girls and young woman in the energy and renewable energy sector specifically?

 

Erin Twamley  23:55

I think we don't know what careers are available to them. I think that if you ask grown adults today, what are the fastest growing jobs in the energy sector? They don't know what they are right. And some of them are jobs like wind technicians, solar installers, or operations managers for some of these wind and solar farms. These jobs didn't exist, right? They didn't exist at the scale they do now 20 years ago, let alone 10 years ago, or even five years ago. So I think part of it is that you can't be what you can't see. Right? I think that's a common phrase that's out there. Women and girls need to know what these careers are, and what those salaries are and how they make a difference, right? How powering our planet addresses things like climate change, how it makes a difference for communities in terms of education and family life?

 

Dan Seguin  24:52

What would you like the short and long term impact of your work to be and where can people buy your books?

 

25:01

So I think the irony I always say is I would like to write myself out of a job. I would like to not actually have to write books that only feature women for example, right. And I would really like to be a point where women in energy or women in STEM careers would be so normalized that they would be in everyday children's books. Unfortunately, one sad stat I will share with you right now is that children's books depict men three times as often as they do women in particular, for those in science, technology, engineering and math. Which means the likelihood of a child picking up a book and seeing a woman working in science, technology, engineering, or math, whether that's a real woman, or just an illustrated woman is pretty low, right? And so until we change that media narrative, I'm gonna have a job to continue sharing these stories and telling these stories. What I think is so interesting is that there's so many media and ways to share these stories. Now I'm a traditional children's book author, and I like print books, right? But the world is changing with Instagram and videos. And the way to reach students and kids is much more vast. And there's a wide variety now, to reach students, where you can you buy my books, so if you go to stem superheroes.com stem superheroes.com is our website, you can find all the places to find the books, but anywhere you want to buy a book Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Amazon Bookshop.org. All of our books and collections are in those places.

 

Dan Seguin  26:21

Now, Erin, we always end our interviews with some rapid fire questions. We've got some new ones for you. I hope you're ready.

 

Erin Twamley  26:55

I think so.

 

Dan Seguin  26:57

Okay, what are you reading right now?

 

Erin Twamley  27:00

I knew you're gonna ask that! I am reading Amanda Gorman's, Call Us What We Carry, which is her collection of poems.

 

Dan Seguin  27:07

Okay. What would you name your boat? If you had one? Do you have one?

 

Erin Twamley  27:14

I don't have a boat. But I think I would name it 'sun' like S-U-N,  like the sunshine.

 

Dan Seguin  27:20

Who is someone that you admire Aaron?

 

27:24

I think right now it would be who is someone that you admire. I know this is supposed to be rapid fire but I think she's a historical woman. But I really admire her work. Her name is Eunice Foote 'f-o-o-t-e' if you want to Google her, she was actually one of the first climate scientists. She did the first experiments on greenhouse gases using jars just in her backyard. And I just really admire that she did that experimentation at home. And not only that, but she recorded all those experiments. And she attempted to share those experiments with Science Foundations and out in the world. So that's just somebody I've been reading about and kind of admire her dedication to doing that work.

 

Dan Seguin  28:09

Cool. What is the closest thing to real magic that you've witnessed?

 

Erin Twamley  28:14

Well, I think plugging in an electric vehicle, and having it turned on, I mean, right. As a kid, I'm so used to gasoline and that smell. And I'll be honest, I'm in the process of trying to purchase an electric vehicle. But I feel like that's magic, right? Like that sparks my 10 year old self of what I'm going to plug in a car and what does that mean? And how does that work? And I want to know all the things right, and all those connection points. So that's probably the closest magic I've experienced lately.

 

Dan Seguin  28:43

Erin, what has been the biggest challenge to you personally, since the pandemic began?

 

Erin Twamley  28:50

So I have two little kids. And I think in some ways, there was isolation that was probably really hard from a family perspective. But on the flip side of that, I got to connect with a lot of classrooms around the world that I would never get to connect with. I visited classrooms in Missouri, in New Jersey and Arizona, in Korea, in Japan, and I never would have been able to do that right? Because they're not flying me out to do those visits.

 

Dan Seguin  29:16

Okay, we've all been watching a lot of Netflix and some of us TV lately. What's your favorite movie or show?

 

Erin Twamley  29:26

I just finished? It's a docu series. It's called the Bad Vegan. So it's a real life story. It's about a woman who started one of the most successful vegan restaurants in the United States in the 90s. And then she was convicted of kind of, you know, fraud and not paying workers but it's a super interesting story and she actually was caught eating a pizza. And so it's a very interesting kind of, you know, like this whole persona and building a brand and she developed this brand and, and it got dismissed huddled. And so that's caught my attention recently.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  30:05

Lastly, what's exciting you about your industry right now?

 

Erin Twamley  30:08

I think what's exciting is that we're changing how we're going to power our planet. Right? And that impacts all of us whether you live on a tiny island somewhere to some of the huge industrialized nations in the United States. And I think we have so much opportunity to actually think about how we want to power our planet? What sources do we want to use to power our planet, and we have a huge opportunity to be a leader in how we change and address climate change.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  30:41

Well, Erin, that's it, we've reached the end of another episode of the thinkenergy podcast! If our listeners want to learn more about you and your work, how could they connect?

 

Erin Twamley  30:50

The best place would be to go to the website, STEMsuperheroes.com. You'll find everything about the work that we do sharing the stories, careers and superpowers of women in STEM, you'll find my email address. We're also on all the social handles that stem superheroes. So you can find us on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Instagram. We don't have a tick tock but maybe in the future, as you know, the modes in the media keep changing.

 

Rebecca Schwartz  31:20

All right. Thank you again, Erin, so much for joining us today. We hope you had a good time.

 

Erin Twamley  31:24

Yes, thank you so much for having me. And I really appreciate you letting me share a little bit about energy superheroes and the women who are changing our planet.

 

Dan Seguin  31:35

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. And don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit thinkenergypodcast.com. I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.