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ACE Student Engineers an Exciting Future for Herself

Taking Career Training to the Next Level – March 17, 2021
This article was originally posted on the Quinsigamond Community College website and in the Wyvern Guardian newsletter.

Rebecca Ashmore

Rebecca Ashmore of Grafton is a senior enrolled in our Electronics & Engineering Technology program who is earning her Associate Degree in Engineering at Quinsigamond Community College (QCC) through their Attend College Early (ACE) Program. It is an ideal opportunity for college ready students like Rebecca to simultaneously complete high school graduation requirements and begin their pursuit of high education.

There is a poise that Rebecca Ashmore demonstrates which belies her age. In the summer of 2020, the high school senior began taking courses through QCC’s Attend College Early (ACE) Program, allowing her to complete her high school degree in Blackstone Valley Regional Vocation Technical High School (BVT), simultaneously pursuing her Associate Degree in Engineering, while also being a part of the Commonwealth Honors Program. She is active in her community, volunteering at Technocopia, a non-profit makerspace in Worcester, the Community Harvest Project, and is a teaching assistant at Kumon Math and Reading Center in South Grafton.

Recently she spoke with the Wyvern Guardian on her passion for STEM and what it means to be a female in a field known to be male dominated.

How did you become interested in engineering and STEM as a whole?

I’ve been involved with STEM for as long as I can remember - where even at 6 years old I was doing science experiments at home. I just enjoyed trying new things and learning whatever I could. I particularly remember this one experiment I did with a friend around that time where we extracted, analyzed, and froze strawberry DNA - and to this day there is still a small container in the freezer as a reminder.

Doing experiments continued on for several years and covered branches such as Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Geology, and Biology and evolved into elaborate home projects such as a Roshambo robotic hand that could react to how you play against it, by monitoring your hand with a camera. As I went into high school, I widened my scope even more to other projects like a temperature data logger to make sure my pet sugar gliders (small, omnivorous, arboreal, and nocturnal gliding possums) had a stable environment during the winter.

Did you have a specific experience(s) that sparked your interest in engineering?

I would say that it was more of a chain of experiences - as I sort of fell in love with the Electronic and Engineering Technology shop at a nearby high school when I toured it in elementary school. I later joined the shop, and it became the leading cause of my focus to move from pure science to engineering. After that, my interest only grew with each experience.

Rebecca Ashmore

Females in STEM are still in the minority. Do you see this changing in the future based on your personal experiences?

I don’t think that it will be a quick change, sadly. I do have confidence that as the younger generations see females in STEM normalized, it will improve. I’ve personally seen excellent programs to encourage women to be in the field that truly helped me become more involved in STEM, and I feel that we’ll get closer to women no longer being in the minority through these programs.

My high school (BVT) has a great program that requires freshmen to explore different trades that they may not otherwise have considered. I have personally had the privilege of being involved in a Women’s Research and Mentorship (WRAMP) program, which introduced me to researching with a female mentor who still reviews my research work today, Girls Who Code Club, and met with very high profile female military leaders. Programs like these offered in my area definitely had a big impact on me, and I strongly believe that they can help many others as well.

Do you have a mentor who has been instrumental in your life? Can you tell me how he/she has supported you and the value of having a mentor?

Mentors are definitely impactful. They have given me opportunities that were keystones in my STEM education. I have had multiple mentors, but I do still keep in touch and I hope that one day I’ll be able to pay it forward. Currently, my mentor at QCC is helping me prepare for a presentation at the Commonwealth Undergraduate Research Conference - and before this, they had helped me find a place to volunteer as an intern by referring me to Technocopia, a local makerspace.

Rebecca Ashmore

Can you tell me why you chose to come to QCC and what prompted you to take part in the ACE program?

Going to QCC has been a decisive part of adjusting my education to match my interests and goals. I chose to go to BVT in high school for the small team project-based learning with hands-on engineering content, and an online high school program for additional subjects that they didn’t offer. The ACE program at QCC was the next level of that - as I plan on attending a 4-year college. The program provided me with the first year of an engineering degree designed for transfer to a 4-year degree, as opposed to a set of high school AP-credit classes. Essentially, the program provides me with a cost-effective engineering-focused college transition year, whether I stay at QCC or go to a 4-year college. I do; however, still work with my high school on specific subjects, independent research, and clubs.

You have accomplished so many thing already. How do you balance it all?

A bulk of it is just planning accordingly, since fortunately everything isn’t happening at the same time. Although there has been the odd time with four soccer games on one day, and another time with two science competitions at the same time. Most of the time I make sure to balance out my commitments as much as I can. There’s also the more long-term activities that require me to go between one focus to the next, but the constant shifts between juggling things like community service and schoolwork are ones that keep me present and in the moment year-round.

You mentioned that QCC is helping you reach your goals. Can you tell me what those goals are?

One of my goals that QCC is helping me reach is a 4-year engineering degree at a well-fitting college. Articulation agreements with public and private colleges give me confidence that the engineering curriculum is in alignment, and I can be credited for my work. QCC is also helping me with my independent research with an independent mechanical design project as part of the Commonwealth Honors Program and helping me present my recent work at the state undergraduate research conference.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I would like to complete a Master’s degree, and have made enough development in my work to take the next step of achievement through a patent, award, or thesis. Whatever I am able to achieve, I want to be able to look back with satisfaction.

What would you tell someone who was considering attending QCC?

I would try to understand what you want from attending QCC and plan for it as much as you can. Planning early allowed me to put together a set of courses that would fulfill my high school requirements, meet prerequisites, be part of an engineering degree program and fully transfer beyond QCC. I also found out about other opportunities like the Commonwealth Honors Program, the Commonwealth Research Conference, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and the Fab Lab with my current mentor. I would definitely recommend contacting the advisors - as they really helped clear the fog for me and helped me set my path. Everyone has been friendly and helpful, which has really made me feel welcome even when remote learning. QCC has been a great experience for me and I would definitely recommend.