EDITOR’S NOTE: This year the News and Press has been running a series of stories on women who work in male-dominated industries. Sometimes called non-traditional workers, these women found jobs and careers that they love and didn’t let gender stereotypes keep them from pursuing their passions.
By Melissa Rollins, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Several months ago, Girls University hosted a panel discussion featuring women who work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers. One of the panel participants was Ashley Lawrence, a Senior Scientist at Robinson Nuclear Plant in Hartsville.
“The panel that we did was amazing, just to see the girls asking questions and being genuinely interested,” Lawrence said. “They wanted to know how we got to where we are and what they could do to get on that path.”
Lawrence said that being a female in an industry where they are few she enjoys being able to speak to the next generation.
“I think I am a little bit of a role model,” Lawrence said. “I think I am fairly successful where I am right now and to know that there is such a small percentage of females in the science related fields, I think I am a big advocate for it and I love to speak to the younger generation about it. I want to help increase that number and let them know that if I can do it, they can do it too.”
Hired by Duke Energy fresh out of college, Lawrence has been with the company for seven years.
“I went to Clemson University and got a degree, a bachelors of science in Chemistry, and then pretty much right after I graduated I got a job at Duke Energy,” she said. “I consider myself pretty lucky.”
Having found a passion for hands-on work in her earlier schools years, Lawrence said it made sense to continue with that passion in college.
“I did pretty well in grade school in the sciences and the maths,” she said. “I loved chemistry lab and being hands-on with the chemicals and making things. I knew I wanted to go that route eventually in college and my career as well.”
She also had a drive to make a difference.
“I knew that I wanted to improve something, whether it was a process, a person or a product,” Lawrence said. “I knew I could do that being in the science field, chemistry at the time was the one I liked the best; that is why I originally chose that field.”
Lawrence said there wasn’t one particular teacher who inspired her to choose a STEM field but there was someone who encouraged her interest.
“It was actually my English teacher in eighth grade, Ms. Robinson,” Lawrence said. “She was my mentor as I was going through school. My mom worked as the same school so I actually kept up with Ms. Robinson throughout high school and college and she’s the one who kept encouraging me. When I got down or got a bad grade she was there to encourage me.”
As a Senior Scientist in Radiation Protection, Lawrence gets to do exactly what she wanted to do: improve a process.
“I am in the ALARA Department, which stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” Lawrence said. “In my particular job, I find different processes and technologies that are out there to make sure that our workers are working in the lowest dose fields or, if they can work remotely, I find the technologies that they use to make sure they reduce their exposure while working in the plant.”
Lawrence said that she never had anyone try to dissuade her from pursuing a STEM career, though she likely wouldn’t have listened anyway.
“The fact that there weren’t a lot of women actually fueled me a little bit because I am the type to say if you can do it, I can do it as well,” she said. “With there not being a lot of females in the field, that is even more fuel for me to show that I can do whatever anyone else can do. Never at any time did I have any discouraging thoughts of me going into the science field.”
For any young ladies interested in a science or math based career, Lawrence said that she would encourage them to find their path, a cheerleader and just go for it.
“I would encourage them to get involved in whatever extra-curricular activities that are out there,” Lawrence said. “Find a role model that they know locally who they can shadow to learn about what they do. Here at Duke we are always going out into local classrooms and speaking to kids so I think that helps to let them know that there are females local to you who are doing amazing things in the science fields; there is no reason they can’t do it as well. I don’t want young girls to think that just because a field is male-dominated that they are not capable of doing it. I want to show them that females are doing just as well as males, if not better.”