How I Got Here: Pittsburgh Engineer Molly Urbina Finds Art and Community in STEM

Back in high school, molly urbina I didn’t dream of being an engineer. He wanted to have a bakery one day. But his father told him that if that was the plan, he would have to attend business school, which appealed even less to his teenage self than a future in technology.

Still, she remembers being less than thrilled when her parents wanted her to join a Carnegie Mellon University-affiliated robotics team called girls of steel. She was not ready to give up her artistic aspirations and she did not want to participate in a program that her sister was a part of.

“I went to all of his competitions with a lot of attitude,” Urbina said. Technically. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be an artist, don’t you dare make me be here,’ and then my parents forced me to be there.”

Once there, however, Urbina fell in love with engineering and not forgetting his artistic aspirations, he enjoyed being able to find the things he loved about making art in machine building as well. Now as a Mechanical Design Engineer II at deep locala creative technology and experience design company based in Sharpsburg, 2022 RealLIST Engineers The Pittsburgh honoree said the lessons she learned on the team still serve her well.

Not just in the way things are built, but in giving you a support network that you still rely on in the professional world.

“What I got on Girls of Steel was a really strong female support system,” Urbina said. “In the field, if I had a problem, I could always talk to someone about it, and I’m still friends with some of the girls to this day. In the team, you can learn while working with your friends and having difficult conversations with them. I learned a lot of the things that people initially learned at the entry level of their position, in high school.”

“I found a way to pursue art by using creativity to come up with an out-of-the-box solution.”

Molly Urbina on mechanical design

He also learned early that criticism of one’s work or ideas does not constitute a personal attack. Later, studying mechanical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, he would realize that his love for art and technology can coexist. At Deeplocal, she has done everything from contributing to mechanical design exhibits for well-known companies like Nike to the design of energy-producing machines.

“I found a way to pursue art within that area with design and using creativity to think of an out-of-the-box solution to really meet that creative outlet that I was looking for before,” Urbina said.

Looking back now, Urbina said she wishes there had been more emphasis on how to deal with the STEM gender imbalance during her education. Although women make up half of degree seekers in science and engineering as of 2022, the field remains disproportionately male. Urbina remembers many college classes in which she was one of the few women, and notes that there is still a lot of sexism in the industry.

“There is still a lot of sexism in the curriculum, in the career and in the workforce,” Urbina said. “I’m lucky now to work with other people in hardware who are women, but that wasn’t what it was a couple of years ago.”

She appreciates being able to share experiences with her former Girls of Steel colleagues. Still, she believes that preparing women and girls for the sexism they might face in the field, should they decide to pursue it as adults, and offering support networks should be part of STEM education programs.

What advice would you give to budding technologists? In a world where 80-hour work weeks are not just normalized but celebrated, Urbina said, don’t be afraid to set limits.

“In my first [job]I was working 90+ hour weeks, and nobody would really tell you to stop working and there are a lot of problems everywhere you go that need to be fixed,” he said. “[What] I needed to know and I would tell anyone else who needs to know, it’s not always your job to fix everything.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that matches young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by Heinz Endowments.


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