Nerd Girl Laura Beth Fulton Stresses the Importance of Mentorship

1_headshot picture


19 year old Laura Beth Fulton attends the University of Pittsburgh as an Academic Scholar. She is studying Mechanical Engineering with plans to pursue a computer science and bioengineering concentration. Laura Beth has a passion for research, engineering, and service.


A few things to know about Laura Beth:


In the lab

While in high school Laura Beth secured a patent and national recognition from the the nation’s most prestigious science fair competitions for Enamel Bond, a safe and biocompatible tooth enamel. She developed this tooth-bonding enamel solution as an invited high school student independently conducting research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.  She continues her research endeavors as an academic-year research intern at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. This past summer, Laura Beth was 1 of 10 undergraduates selected nationally as a Summer Student Scholar to intern at the University of Pennsylvania Nano/Bio Interface Center.

In 2014, Laura Beth was selected as 1 of 30 students nationally to attend Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute in Mountain View, California, a month-long all-expense paid intensive program where she learned coding from Google engineers and built her first app as part of a team. Curious what that experience was like? See Laura Beth’s blog. Interested in learning even more? See here for information on CSSI.

Laura volunteering in Ecuador

Volunteering in Ecuador

Science for Success, Laura Beth’s Girl Scout Gold Award project, encourages young girls to explore careers in STEM. She became a Microsoft Youth Spark Ambassador and received Microsoft funding for Science for Success. As 1 of 5 global winners of the Microsoft Challenge for Change, she traveled to Ecuador, visiting Microsoft’s South American headquarters in Quito and volunteering in an indigenous community building a school kitchen while gaining valuable leadership skills. As a Youth Spark Ambassador, Laura Beth also presented her project Science for Success at the 2015 international Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago to over 23,000 participants. Read more about Laura Beth’s experience here. Interested in learning more about Challenge for Change? See here.

Nerd Girl Q&A with Laura Beth: 

NG: Who inspired you to enter STEM, and who inspires you today to continue?

LB: I truly believe that anyone from any background can find success in science by connecting with mentors. Although my parents are *not* in the STEM fields, they have always encouraged my fascination with technology and academic pursuits. I began to embrace my curiosity to question and to develop solutions through my independent science fair involvement in high school through which I gained national recognition for my now patent published research. My science fair mentors helped me to gain better understandings of scientific processes, and I began considering a career in STEM because I wanted to play a role in developing technologies.

My interest in technology led me to challenge myself by taking the highest level science and math courses in high school and to embark on independent engineering challenges. In my sophomore year of high school, I formed and captained a community based robot club which competed in the South Jersey IEEE Robot Challenge. Through robotics, I developed leadership and teamwork skills, and skills in electrical wiring and engineering structural design. By working as a team to construct, design, and electrically wire our robot, I learned firsthand about the cooperation, teamwork and collaboration necessary for team and project success.

My interest in engineering was strengthened through my initiative to engage my community in science. With my Girl Scout Gold Award project, Science for Success, involving over four-hundred leadership hours, I created a documentary film interviewing notable, local female scientists and introduced interesting ways for young girls to enjoy and explore science careers. Through my project, I met women who have been inspirational role models for me and I have received encouragement from these women to pursue a path in engineering. As part of my project, I visited groups of younger girls, doing experiments with them to increase their confidence to overcome stereotypes and cultural biases which may affect their performance in engineering.

In the summer of 2014, I was selected as 1 of 30 students nationally to attend Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI), a three-week intensive program for pre-college engineering freshmen who had little or no prior coding experience. While attending, I discovered I loved learning to code! Gaining experience with programming and scripting languages – JavaScript, Python, Google App Engine, HTML/CSS, Unix, jQuery – aided my problem solving mindset; I was hooked, realizing I wanted to pursue a path that combined computer science, engineering, and research.

Most recently, I have continued my initiative Science for Success on my college campus, I share computer science opportunities with local schools in Pittsburgh. I also presented Science for Success at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Science Center’s Engineer the Future Day. The Science for Success booth featured a “STEM Connection,” providing children with information about STEM opportunities in the Pittsburgh area and nationally. My engineering team and I answered questions regarding: what it is like to study engineering, occupations of engineers in our field, and how we became interested in science.

At the University of Pittsburgh I co-founded and currently co-chair She Innovates, the Pittsburgh’s only all female hackathon. I am proud to help students discover the fun of collaborative coding in a supportive environment. As I continue my path toward engineering through my studies and research endeavors, what “starts” me to study engineering is eagerness to explore technologies, openness to learn, and passion to share engineering with others to collaboratively build awesome applications that unite science and technology.

NG: What’s a challenge you encountered in your education or career and how did you overcome it?

LB:  I enjoy going to hackathons and collaboratively coding on a team. In the fall of 2014, I attended my first hackathon, HackMIT, where I coded with a team to produce Science-Up “SUP,” an app for collaborative data sharing between mentors and students. Inspiration for SUP stemmed from my personal experiences in the research lab where I had noticed a lack of connectivity with my mentor due to the use of multiple platforms – email, Dropbox, text messaging – to share information. Science-Up helps keep mentors and students connected by organizing shared information into a “shared research space” using the app. Challenges included the pressure of working on a team to code the project under hackathon time constraints.

We included features such as document sharing using the Dropbox API, a student roster list, and a messaging forum using a post method in our app. The most fun and most difficult feature to implement was integrating the Yo API to notify mentors in real-time when the student reaches the lab. The Yo API is not well documented online, but we were able to fork the Yo Github open source to better understand implementation based on other applications’ use of the API. We wrote a code that fused what we learned about how to implement the API with the function we sought to perform. Our code was successful and we included the Yo feature in our app.

The challenge of working with a team under a time limit to learn something new and implement it to build something awesome excited me. I have since attended other hackathons and started a hackathon to promote an inclusive building environment for women at my university to share the joys I experience from hackathons.

NG: What advice would you like to share with young women considering entering a STEM field?

LB: Surround yourself with people and resources that will take the science journey with you. People could be professional mentors, older students, or peers who can share advice with you and reinforce your confidence that you can succeed. Recognize that topics in science and engineering can be difficult and seeking help to understand material better is admirable. At the end of the day – if you love experimenting, are curious to know more about the world, and want to make an impact through science – pursue STEM because it’s passion that defines the best scientists.

NG: Do you have a favorite quote to share and inspire?

LB: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

30 Years Ago Today: The Challenger Legacy

image credit: NASA

image credit: NASA

30 years ago today at 11:39 AM we lost seven astronauts in the Challenger disaster. We lost Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

Electrical engineer Judith Resnik was picked to be an astronaut in 1978. She trained for six years before her first flight, at which time she became only the second American woman in space. In high school, she was the sole female on her high school math team, and she was the only female out of 16 students to achieve perfect scores on the SATs. As a classical pianist, she once said, “I never play anything softly.”

Social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe’s “infectious enthusiasm” helped her stand out among a crowd of 11,000 applicants hoping to be part of NASA’s Teacher in Space Project. She planned to conduct experiments and teach lessons from space in order to engage students in space exploration.

The disaster may have grounded the space program for almost three years, but what emerged as the Challenger’s legacy is strong. Engineers had raised concerns about safety issues before the launch, and NASA, acknowledging that the disaster was preventable, set about to change its culture. NASA also made over a hundred changes to the shuttle to make it safer.

Crew families came together to establish the Challenger Center. One of the first STEM outreach programs in the US, the center continues the Challenger mission – engaging and inspiring students in STEM.

You may be young enough that you have only heard about this day in history, or you may be one of so many students who sat with excitement waiting to watch the launch on television.

Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, a young Peggy Noonan, would write an emotional speech that would resonate with an entire country that evening. The speech ended with quotes from the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, a 19 year old airman who died in World War II:

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”