Hello to everyone reading this Diverse Voices blog post where we share stories about the degrees and careers of FSU affiliates. Today’s post is about a woman named Tina Fischer who graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. In addition to that difficult major, she had math and dance minors when she finished FSU. Tina has such great advice about school and choosing a career that I cannot wait to share, so let’s get into it.
Tina was initially a dance major and later decided she wanted to do something STEM-related so she switched her major to mathematics. As she was thinking about possible career outcomes of a math major, she decided they didn’t fit her well. Reflecting on a high school physics class, she knew she liked working with electronics, so she settled on electrical engineering. Tina was lucky enough to not experience any prejudice in this program, but she did notice when she started her coursework that there were very few women in her classes. She met a few friends who were women, and they would do homework together and study before tests. Her courses were very challenging, and she knew there were students smarter than her who were really in the engineering mindset, but she had great study groups and made it through to graduation.
While Tina was in school, she was hired for a co-op position as an engineering student at Florida Power Corporation in St. Petersburg, Florida. For an entire semester, she worked a normal 40-hour work week, then returned to FSU the following semester to be a full-time student. Alternating semesters, she worked three co-op terms in all, earning full-time pay. In one department called Relay Design, Tina calculated transmission line currents to isolate faults and prevent the least service interruption. Next she worked in the Power Plant Design department which enabled her to visit fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. Tina worked alongside men who had been power plant technicians for multiple decades and they were probably thinking “who is this young FSU girl coming in to install an automatic transfer switch?” They were all very friendly, and she said it was similar to “take your daughter to work” day.
After two semesters, Tina’s co-op coordinator advised her to try something besides engineering to get the full workforce experience. For her third co-op semester, she worked in the Direct Mail Marketing department scheduling inserts that would accompany monthly power bills. During this semester, Tina was designated the marketing department “techie” by her colleagues. With their encouragement, she volunteered to assist a computer consulting company hired to redesign Florida Power’s computer system. As a co-op student, Tina collaborated with her teammates and designed the new graphical user interface (GUI), or computer screens, for the marketing department.
While Tina was finishing up her final classes, her co-op experience helped her realize she ultimately did not want to be an engineer. She told me a funny anecdote about how some older male engineers wore collared shirts with plastic pocket protector sleeves in their shirt pockets to hold their pens; when she wore her skirt suit with a satin shell blouse with no pockets, they asked her where she kept her pen and calculator. She just carried them…no pocket protector required.
Since she knew she did not want to be an engineer, she was very open to other job opportunities and went to an FSU job fair during her last semester. As luck would have it, representatives from the consulting firm she worked with at Florida Power was at the job fair sharing career opportunities. Tina stopped by their booth to chat and mentioned she designed a computer screen for one of their clients and would love to work with them as a computer consultant. She did not know how to code at the time, but she wanted to learn how to implement the backend programs of these GUI computer systems. They hired her to start immediately upon graduation. The consulting company sent her to a three-week full-time programming school in St. Charles, Illinois which was similar to college 2.0 to learn how to program. Her first job in her new career was back with Florida Power in St. Petersburg to program the backend computer system. She was there for a year and a half and was assigned later to programming projects at Florida Power & Light, Anheuser-Busch, and Fed Ex.
I thought it was really interesting she was hired for a programming job when she did not know much about coding. I asked her what that was like and why she thought she got hired over other people who knew more coding. She said she got hired because the consulting company uses a behavior-based interview model to seek graduates who are self-motivated, have shown the interest and capacity to learn, and have a collaborative spirit. All the consultants who worked with this firm were outgoing, team-oriented, and very dedicated to learning to program even though they did not initially know coding.
Tina now works as Manager of Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College, facilitating strategic planning engagements for private sector businesses, municipalities, nonprofit organizations, and their SPC college family. This past year, she facilitated numerous Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) community engagements with up to 1,000 people. She also works with companies to help them create strategic initiatives and action plans. She guides her clients in creating their own vision board by imagining- “if your company was on a magazine cover in five years, what would you have achieved?” From this future vision, they establish supportive goals and define strategies and actions to make it a reality. She says her job is very rewarding and loves the variety of clients and engagements and hearing all the good that is happening in the community. When Tina talks about her work you can see her eyes light up and you can tell she is truly passionate about her career.
I asked her for some final advice for current STEAM students and she had four major pieces of advice:
1) Investigate your career choices before deciding on a major. There are different types of workplaces to consider including size of the organization, company culture, uniform/attire, etc. It is great to know what kind of environment you like to work in before you get a degree so you can better prepare.
2) Do an internship to expose yourself to the workplace. Tina said this many times throughout the interview because she truly believes that internships are so important to gain experience, knowledge, and to find out if you truly love that career. (She also met her husband during her internship which is such a great story to tell.)
3) You will frequently start out at a lower position/salary level and then you will move up. Take time to learn and gain experience to keep growing. Your degree will help you and so will the experience so don’t be discouraged to start at or near the bottom.
4) Continue to learn, gain skills, and ask what is next for yourself. People don’t always stay with companies 30-40 years like they used to. More schooling is always an option.
Her last piece of advice was that universities should have more trainings and webinars on diversity, collaboration, anxiety/mental health, and other sensitive topics so that professors are equipped to support students and direct them to a good resource if needed. Some universities are great at this, and others could do better.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet and talk to Tina. She had such a great story and inspirational advice to share and I hope you learned something from her as well!
This post was written by Kirsten Caldwell, a graduate student of the FSU School of Information and graduate assistant of the FSU STEM libraries.