How I Almost Failed at Engineering School

Lockheed Martin IQ: Renee Frohnert 

Over 32% of women leave STEM degree programs in college.

I was almost part of that statistic.

I fell in love with aerospace at the age of seven. I committed to study electrical engineering at Penn State in hopes of accepting a full-time engineering role in aerospace after graduation. However, the high school to college transition posed as a major challenge for me. My first semester of my freshman year at Penn State, I was put on academic probation for getting a 1.5 GPA. Even though I wanted to be an engineer in aerospace since I was seven, I questioned whether engineering was really for me. Instead of giving up, I made a commitment to get on the Dean’s List the following semester in hopes of staying enrolled at the university. I also joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Penn State to help improve my professional and academic development.

But that wasn’t the only challenge I faced in my undergrad.

Where are the Women?

Engineering school was hard for everyone from a technical standpoint, but being one of the few women in the major was another significant obstacle for me.

During my sophomore year, I broke my collarbone while competing for the Penn State Powerlifting Team. From getting dressed to carrying my books, I did everything with one hand — or asked for help. When I walked into my electrical engineering class wearing my sling, I noticed there was only one other woman in the class of 150 students. I felt uncomfortable asking a stranger to help me use the restroom, but with only one option, that’s exactly what I did.

 “Why are there only two women in a class of 150?” I wondered.

During the rest of my college years, I leaned heavily on my SWE group and also joined Women in Nuclear to connect with other women facing similar challenges. I refused to be part of the statistic of those women who switch out of STEM programs in college. With the support of my mentors from these two organizations, I stuck with engineering and graduated in 2016 with honors. Upon graduation, I accepted my first position at Lockheed Martin as an electronics engineer. Since then, I’ve supported many projects and even fulfilled my dream of working on the Orion spacecraft in coordination with NASA.

Photo Credit: Renee Frohnert

Inspiring Women and Minorities in STEM

After overcoming these hardships, I wanted to give back. I wanted to become an advocate for women and minorities in STEM, ensuring they feel wanted and welcome in the field. I turned to Instagram (@SpaceWomanTV) to empower others and share about my journey, which soon caught the attention of the SWE, who invited me to share my story on its blog in honor of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary.

Even more importantly, my blog post caught the attention of a female summer intern from Purdue University at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics who was facing similar GPA challenges. I mentored and supported her through the process, and she ended up exceeding the GPA requirement to keep her academic scholarship. She was so inspired by our connection, she invited me to share my story with over 200 engineering students at the Purdue University SWE Day with Industry event earlier this month.

I was honored to give these women a clear vision of where they could be if they just stayed with the program. When students approached me after my talk to tell me about their similar stories, I gladly reminded them of the crucial lessons I learned firsthand: Success does not come easy. Failure is a vital part of success. And they, too, can be the statistic-defying women who stick it out to achieve their dreams.

I strive to be an advocate for women and minorities in STEM. If it weren’t for my advocates and mentors, I would not be in the position I am today. Whether through social media, public speaking or Lockheed Martin’s Women’s Impact Network (WIN) and Diversity & Inclusion Council, I strive to ensure everyone — no matter what their background is — feels like they belong in STEM.

@SpaceWomanTV on Instagram