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Carol Polen - Science Educator

Give me a little background about you. Are you local to Richmond? Where did you go to college? What did you study? When did you graduate?

I graduated from Virginia Tech with an undergraduate degree in what is now Industrial and Systems Engineering. After graduation, I went to work for a small phone company (now Verizon) in Richmond. I relocated several times with the company, including to Atlanta, Tampa, and Charlotte, where I received my MBA at UNC. After completing my MBA, I accepted a job with Dominion here in Richmond. I moved back in 1997 and have called Richmond home ever since!

What has your career path been like so far?

Between the time I moved back to Richmond and the time I left the company in 2012, I held several different positions within Dominion’s IT branch. My roles varied from Project Manager to Director of IT, and I worked with employees from nearly every facet of the company. After retiring in 2012, I completed my Master’s in Education and went on to teach Physics at the high school level. I have since left teaching and am now pursuing STEM outreach and education opportunities. I am especially focused on placing young women and girls on the path to a career in engineering.

What’s the best/coolest/most challenging/most unusual engineering project you’ve worked on to date?

While working for Dominion, I had the opportunity to work alongside employees in customer service. The whole experience was definitely an eye-opener for me. In engineering, much of our work is calculated with pre-determined results. In customer service, there is no way to predict how a customer will act or respond. It was great to work alongside “people” people, and find new technologies to keep up with the customers.

How did you get involved with SWE? How long have you been a SWE member?

I became involved with the local chapter of SWE in 1997, after moving from Charlotte to RVA. Actually, SWE helped me find my job with Dominion! I contacted the local chapter and explained my career and education background, and through some mutual connections I was put in touch with hiring staff at Dominion. I have been involved with SWE in Richmond ever since!

Favorite SWE activity, or event that you can remember? Social gathering, lecture, annual event, etc?

Outreach, of course! I love working with kids, especially at events like Sonya Kovalevsky day, where we get to work hands on activities with young girls and teach them about engineering. It’s energizing to see kids interested in the activities – and hopefully that energy will translate into a lifelong love of STEM. Things you do in middle and high school can set your trajectory in life, and I want to influence as many young women as possible towards engineering.

If you could recommend a restaurant or favorite activity in or around the city for a new Richmonder to try, what would it be?

Richmond is known as “The River City” for good reason. Get out and explore the river and all the beauty that comes along with it. Try biking the Capital Trail, or attend one of the many outdoor festivals the city hosts each year.

Do you have any role models? Mentors? Do you have any advice for younger girls who may be seeking a mentor?

Having a mentor doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. The key is to find someone who recognizes your talents and wants to help you utilize them. Learn to find those people in your life and cultivate your relationship with them.  

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