‘Cathy Vollmer’s Inspirational Journey Into The World Of Innovation & Technology'

March 20, 2023 1:20 pm

Peridot Foundation Gracita R Arrindell said: “we are pleased to share the core address of Mrs. Cathy Vollmer, current Manager of Information Technology Services at the American University Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). Her speech was given on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2023 celebration.

Supporting the United Nation’s statement: "Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality" Mrs. Vollmer’s explained how we, as individuals and as a community can move this initiative forward by sharing her personal journey which includes 45 years of studying, working, and teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM fields). Looking back at a fulfilling career, with many challenges along the way that took perseverance to overcome. Ideas become reality”; said Arrindell.

Arrindell states; “Her story starts with the story of her parents. Her father was a Civil engineer who worked on pipeline projects throughout the U.S., Mexico, and in the Panama Canal Zone. Cathy’s mother adored her husband and wanted to study engineering so she became an exceptional student to follow in his footsteps. She first applied to the School of Engineering at a U.S. university. However, her application was rejected, with a note that they did not admit women into the Engineering program. Her mother earned a degree in mathematics and went on to become a math teacher, a perfectly acceptable profession for a woman in the 1950s, but it was not her dream’ said Cathy.”

Gracita continues; “Mrs. Vollmer remembers her mother talking about her desire to study engineering and her many rejections, leaving an unforgettable impression on her as a child. When it was her time to choose, inspired by her grandfather and her mother’s dream, she decided to be an Engineer. She attended the College of Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and chose Mechanical Engineering as a major. In 1977 her Mechanical Engineering class of over 300 included only 13 women”.

“During her academic journey, Cathy felt accepted and was active in the Society of Women Engineers, sat on one of the Dean’s councils, and was part of the Engineering Honor Society. After leaving academia her story of acceptance changed. Employed as a Test Engineer with a computer manufacturer, Data General, in addition to being one of only 3 women in the department of over 30, she was also the only Mechanical engineer on a team of Electrical engineers and technicians. Great mentorship and being promoted into a management position over male candidates brought home a different reality. Male colleagues are no longer socialized. Losing her confidence, she started to question her management and technical abilities, to lead a team of – 25 male engineers and technicians.

Only persistence and the intense desire to not fail helped her to overcome that challenging period in her career. It took many years for her to understand that the most powerful voice at the table is not the loudest voice. Rather, by listening carefully, commenting thoughtfully, and staying true to herself, she eventually broke down the bias and felt accepted as a woman in her role”.

“Cathy Vollmer’s career included working for several large companies, such as: Data General for 12 years, Bell and Howell mail-handling division, as well as on Research and Design teams to bring manufacturability into products from design inception.

In 1996, she moved with her family to work in Hong Kong and Shanghai, China where she spent 11 years mostly raising her family.

Returning to the United States in 2008, Mrs. Vollmer took the opportunity to come to St. Maarten as a consultant to assist the Information Technology Services group at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.”

“From 2011 to date she is the Manager of Information Technology Services at AUC. Cognizant of the rapid pace students live in, staying current with the changes is imperative by constantly bringing new technology into the classroom to aid in delivering AUC’s outstanding Curriculum. Her background in Engineering provided the foundational skills to address and work through some of the complex problems that the University is faced with and be innovative in creating solutions. AUC comprises a world-class simulation center and state-of-the-art classrooms, labs, and small group teaching spaces. Having a seat at the technology table provides the influence necessary to direct the development of a course of the school thereby meeting the needs of the students”.

“To significantly increase the voice of women in Technology, Mrs. Vollmer is adamant in her view that there needs to be inclusive work environments. Creating that inclusivity is up to those who work in these spaces. The AUC is part of a larger corporation – Adtalem Global Education which has a stated focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Cathy is fortunate to work in an environment she is empowered and valued for her diversity. One of the ways Adtalem empowers women and the advancement of gender diversity is through the EDGE network. EDGE stands for Empowerment, Diversity, Growth, and Excellence. EDGE supports the enhanced career experience and advancement of women in the workforce and is a vibrant internal program promoting professional development and diversity. It’s a great model that could easily be adopted in other workplaces and at different scales”.

“Providing inspiration is key, in order to increase the number of girls entering the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Creating opportunities for girls to see women working in the STEM fields first-hand allows them to imagine possibilities for themselves. As women and women leaders, no matter what field of work we are in, we can provide shadowing, mentoring, and apprenticeship opportunities to young girls and women stated Cathy Vollmer”.

“She continued by saying that along with inspiration, we must provide girls with the confidence that they can do the math, that they can be complex problem solvers, they can innovate and thrive in a technical field. Making a game of math and science, and providing safe spaces for girls to experiment and try their hand at designing and innovating is one way to build confidence”. Mrs. Vollmer gave an excellent example whereby each year chapters of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers hold Egg Drop Contests. In this contest students attempt to achieve what seems impossible – dropping raw eggs from a significant height, sometimes several stories, without breaking the eggs.

The objective is to inspire engineering thought and design. The lightest apparatus that protects the egg from breaking wins. “Peridot Foundation looks forward to accepting this challenge from Mrs. Vollmer and introducing this egg-drop science contest at schools in Sint Maarten, said Arrindell”.

“Cathy Vollmer concluded her address by sharing a report by the National Science Foundation that states that women only make up 28% of the workforce in science and engineering fields. Breaking down stereotypes and gender bias is possible by instilling confidence in girls so they believe that they too can be good at math and can be problem solvers through games and events designed to inspire engineering thought and design. When they enter the workforce as women, it is incumbent upon us ( women) to support them, mentor them, and nurture their professional development, so that they can be the inspiration for the next generation”

Gracita concludes: “Peridot Foundation salutes Cathy Vollmer for her leadership and encouragement to all girls and women who aspire to study, work and excel in the field of innovation and technology for the advancement of humanity”.