Sacred Heart education serves as a foundation for alumnae in engineering

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Natalie Dosmond '21

Four Sacred Heart Greenwich alumnae continue their passion for engineering beyond the heart.

Although women often find obstacles in the pursuit of success in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field, four Sacred Heart Greenwich alumnae are continuing their passion for engineering, either in their careers or at the undergraduate level.  Ms. Nicole Polemeni-Hegarty ’13, Ms. Kristin Uhmeyer ’05, Ms. Erin Schick ’16, and Ms. Ciara Henry ’18 have defied stereotypes and expectations, crediting their Sacred Heart education as the foundation for their careers.

After graduating from Sacred Heart in 2013, Ms. Polemeni-Hegarty attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering in 2017 and a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the university the following year.  During her four years at Cornell, she was a part of the University’s Mars Rover design team, eventually acting as the Engineering Manager for the team and overseeing integration of all engineering systems.

In 2018, Ms. Polemeni-Hegarty began working as a Mechanical Engineer for Blue Origin in the Seattle area.  Blue Origin is a privately funded aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company founded in 2000, according to blueorigin.com.  The most important skill Ms. Polemeni-Hegarty gained during her time at Sacred Heart was the confidence to share her own thoughts and opinions, especially in an academic or professional setting, and to not undermine her own intelligence or abilities.

Ms. Nicole Polemeni-Hegarty ’13 and Ms. Kristin Uhmeyer ’05 work for Blue Origin and Raytheon Technologies respectively.  Natalie Dosmond ’21

“Sacred Heart Greenwich taught me to show up and speak up,” Ms. Polemeni-Hegarty said.  “I first noticed in university that many of my female peers were more timid in the classroom compared to their male counterparts.  When asked a question, many would be afraid to get the answer wrong and would opt to not contribute.  Sacred Heart taught me that I have a valued place in the classroom, and my ideas should not be held back.  This notion extends to the workplace.  If you have a valuable idea, or if you see a problem, it is imperative that you speak up and never apologize for being heard.  I find this especially important in my line of work, where we are constantly trying to innovate new ideas.”

Sacred Heart Greenwich taught me to show up and speak up. [It] taught me that I have a valued place in the classroom, and my ideas should not be held back.”

— Ms. Nicole Polemeni-Hegarty '13

Ms. Uhmeyer has been working as a systems engineer at Raytheon Technologies since 2009.  She earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009, later obtaining a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2013.  Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on managing complex systems using the combined knowledge of those from different disciplines, meaning that the system as a whole can meet its objectives.

At Raytheon Technologies, Ms. Uhmeyer uses her background in aerospace engineering to work on radar systems for space and defense applications.  She designs and analyzes algorithms that best optimize limited resources, so that the radar can then protect the United States and its allies.  Ms. Uhmeyer’s education at Sacred Heart built the foundation for her career, not only academically, but ethically.

“Everything builds upon what you learn before, and things that might not seem to be applicable at first glance can be fundamental to what you end up working with,” Ms. Uhmeyer said.  “One of the things I learned, particularly in a math seminar, is how to keep working to find additional ways to prove a solution. I also really improved as a writer while at Sacred Heart, and being able to communicate my ideas clearly in writing is really important when you don’t necessarily work in the same room as everyone you need to communicate with.  Lastly, I view a strong ethical foundation as very important as an engineer, and Sacred Heart Greenwich gave me a deep foundation here.  Often, the things you design, or the things you choose to pursue versus not pursue, can literally be a matter of life and death for the people your product affects.”

Ms. Schick is a Software Engineer and Scrum Master at Leidos.  She graduated with a B.S. from the University of Maryland College Park in 2020 and started her job at Leidos, based out of Arlington, Virginia, last July.  During her time at Sacred Heart, Ms. Schick took advantage of the computer science and robotic opportunities, ultimately prompting her career choice.  In addition, the rigor of the computer science classes she took during her time in the Upper School prepared her for her classes in college.

“I attribute the fact that I am a software engineer to Sacred Heart Greenwich and the opportunities I was given there,” Ms. Schick said.  “My first ever exposure to coding and software began my sophomore year when I participated in the Upper School’s first ever robotics program with a humanoid NAO robot named Storm.  I loved that class so much, I went on to participate in multiple online Computer Science classes my junior and senior year thanks to the guidance of my incredible advisors.  Everything that I learned at Sacred Heart in those classes allowed me to be a step above the majority of my college classmates my freshman year.” 

I attribute the fact that I am a software engineer to Sacred Heart Greenwich and the opportunities I was given there.

— Ms. Erin Schick '16

Ms. Henry is currently a junior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.  Since September 2019, she has acted as an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the University, studying adsorption isotherms of various gases to further expand on Fick’s Law.  At Sacred Heart, Ms. Henry garnered several skills that have proven to be instrumental during her undergraduate experience.  Above all, she learned the importance of believing in herself as well as collaborating with others in order to be successful in her pursuits.  These skills Ms. Henry acquired during her time at Sacred Heart have contributed to how she approaches her studies at Johns Hopkins.

“The most powerful and influential skill I learned at Sacred Heart is to believe in myself,” Ms. Henry said.  “There are many challenges throughout your undergraduate experience, whether in group projects, studying for exams, research, clubs, etc., and the confidence to know that you can accomplish your goal is the most impactful lesson I learned at Sacred Heart.  Additionally, the ability to work and connect with others is vital to get through an engineering major.  No one is able to accomplish all of the work alone.  Instead, you have to collaborate, help others, and truly listen to your peers to succeed.  This lesson was reinforced throughout my time at Sacred Heart, from the sports fields to the group quizzes we would take in AP Physics.”

In 2019, women only made up 13.9 percent of all employed civil engineers in the United States.  Courtesy of catalyst.org

In 2019, only 18.7 percent of all software developers and systems software engineers in the United States were women, according to catalyst.org.  In addition to gender expectations and stereotypes, male-dominated workplaces also significantly contribute to these inequities, according to pewsocialtrends.org.  When a woman starts her career at a male-dominated workplace, she often faces discrimination and does not have access to female peers, role models, and mentors with whom she can share her experiences, according to mckinsey.com

However, there have been improvements in female representation in engineering and computer science fields, and more women than ever are obtaining degrees in STEM, according to catalyst.org.  Ms. Uhmeyer commented on her experience as a woman studying and working in engineering and how female role models in the field have helped her to feel more secure in her abilities.

“Engineering is a male-dominated field, and a lot of times I’m the only woman in a room with a group of men, but a lot of my managers and leads have been women and it’s been great to have them as role models,” Ms. Uhmeyer said.  “I think the most important thing is to be secure in your sense of self and that you have worthwhile ideas and perspective to contribute, even if it’s not the same or exactly in agreement with someone else.  It’s really easy to feel, especially in school, that if you’re not getting As on every test that you’re not cut out for engineering, when that’s just not true.  Male coworkers often don’t qualify their opinions and will state them as fact, where I tend to qualify my statements with ‘under this condition’ or ‘this might be it.’  Once you’ve established a reputation as someone who knows her stuff, you need to be secure in your decisions and charge ahead when appropriate and ethical instead of always waiting for permission in order to get things done.”

Ms. Henry stressed the power of collaboration, a skill that she learned at Sacred Heart, especially when studying in a historically male-dominated field. 

Ms. Nicole Polemeni-Hegarty ’13, Ms. Kristin Uhmeyer ’05, Ms. Erin Schick ’16, and Ms. Ciara Henry ’18 pursued careers in the field of engineering after graduating from Sacred Heart.  Courtesy of news.mit.edu

“Collaboration is key — don’t struggle alone,” Ms. Henry.  “The more you are willing to help others, the more your peers will reciprocate to help you.  Most of all, believe in yourself.  It will be hard but you can do it.  You have worked hard to be where you are and are more knowledgeable than you realize.” 

Ms. Polemeni-Hegarty advises young women to celebrate their individuality and to realize the value of their talents.  She also encourages those who have an interest in engineering to apply their skills and knowledge in a tangible way, going beyond class time to truly foster a passion for the field and to gain experience.  

“First, do not underestimate the power of your written and oral communication skills in an engineering career,” Ms. Polemeni-Hegarty said.  “Your ideas are only as good as you can present them, and clarity in communication suggests to peers that you have clarity in thought.  Second, get hands-on experience in university.  Whether this is doing research in a lab as a chemical engineer, or working on a robotics team as an electrical engineer, you will get substantially more value out of your classes if you have context to what your lessons can help you to achieve.  You will likely look and act differently than many of your engineering peers. Instead of conforming to those around you, lean into your differences and confidently contribute your strengths.  Companies are looking to cultivate diversity in the workplace, it has never been a better time for women to pursue an engineering career.”

Featured Image by Natalie Dosmond ’21