As a director at Sandia National Laboratories, Dr. Carol Adkins has distinguished herself as a science and technology innovator who pushes engineering to develop more efficient, practical, and robust solutions to some of the nation’s most difficult problems.

For decades, Adkins has been a leader and motivator in many areas of STEM. Today, she leads a group of over 200 technical staff working toward making the electric infrastructure more reliable, more secure, and safer for the environment. She has distinguished herself by contributing to technical progress in medicine, the military, oil, environmentally conscious engineering, microelectronics, security, and renewable energy and infrastructure. She exemplifies the philosophy of continual learning through additional programs such as the Nuclear Weapons Leadership Program and the National Security Leadership Program.

Adkins mentors CalTech graduates and encourages female STEM professionals to be active in schools and to make communities stronger by exposing young people to STEM and encouraging females to build resilience to real-life work pressures.

In the words of Dr. Carol Adkins:

How can the world increase diversity in STEM fields?
“Encourage and institutionalize giving back. It is important to be present in the schools to teach kids what can be done in the science and engineering fields and to show that a woman can do it. It is important to be a role model for young people to show how engineers and scientists help improve world conditions, not just economic wealth. It is also important to support women in the STEM workforce and give them the support they need to be resilient to the pressures of the professional world.”

What barriers are in the way to closing the gender gap in STEM?
“The issues of implicit bias underlie many of the barriers to closing the gender gap in STEM, and it is important to understand the science of implicit bias and the ways we can address it. A revelation for many is that women can be a part of the problem in exhibiting just as much of an unconscious bias as do men! To address that, enabling the rules so women and girls are on truly level playing fields is critical. In addition, we need to push to have more visible STEM female heroes as part of our culture. “

How is the world changing with respect to STEM?
“I fear that we take science and engineering for granted, and our complacency means we don’t help emphasize its importance for our younger generations. There were eras when scientists were celebrated as significant ‘heroes’ addressing world problems or pioneering exciting new breakthroughs. This needs to be renewed.”

Describe your experiences as a woman in a STEM career.
“I entered my technical profession very conscious of my unique position as a woman, and I learned to survive and thrive by behaving like the majority demographic, the white males with whom I worked. Constantly left out of the ‘boys’ club, I learned to make my own networks and support the women around me. As my professional success increased, I increased my sphere of influence within my institution and profession through organization and chairmanship of organizations to help raise awareness and take positive actions.”