Meet Smart Girl Sarah O’Rourke: Connecting Kids with STEM
Author. Words for @brooklynmag, @latimes, @femsplain, @washingtonpost, @smrtgirls.
Autodesk is a company already known for its outreach towards kids interested in the STEM/STEAM fields, notably making waves last year for its Superhero Cyborgs program. But we wanted to know more about Smart Girl Sarah O’Rourke who as the Youth Audience Strategist promotes the free 3-D software design program Tinkercad, and is often the liaison between the company and various communities for events. Vivacious, smart, and engaging, O’Rourke talked to us about why she loves her job and how important it is to be an encouraging force to all kids in their academic pursuits by exposing them to the tools that can make the ideas in their head become real.
SMART GIRLS: Why is this job so important to you?
Sarah O’Rourke: I don’t even even look at it as a job anymore. I just look at it as something I really care about. And every day I wake up and I get to share with the kids and teachers and parents. It never feels like a job. Just being that connector is important to me.
SG: You have two daughters, what do you think schools and teachers can do to encourage more kids-especially girls-to pursue the STEM/STEAM fields?
SO: That is a great question. I think just being aware of the free resources because in the world of maker culture people have the opportunity to attend a local Maker Faire and can see amazing women makers young and old. Women who are involved in robotics or drones or there is the young makers tent. Libraries have also redefined themselves as maker spaces, or taking a class. Something I do with my girls is take them to a junkyard-and this may sound like a wackadoodle idea-but for them what they learn is to not be afraid to get dirty…they have to find the thing they want to take apart that month. They have to negotiate the price with the person at the junkyard. It kind of gives them that empowerment for their decisions. Then we go home and take whatever it is apart. That’s really inspiring to see [them learn] how things come together. Hands on is so important for staying engaged.
SG: Do you have any advice you’d give young girls who might feel overwhelmed in a field that seems dominated by males?
SO: I thankfully always approached it as “I don’t know” and I don’t think that’s a bad thing to say. Women leaders wherever you are in age and career, or people in general, sometimes we feel like we always have to have the answer or solution, but I think what has served me well in career is that saying “I don’t really know about this, can you teach me or help me understand.” I think that’s helped because I’ve become really knowledgeable very quickly. When I understand the process then I can actively start to question. You’re always continuing to improve, I think approaching it that way for young girls puts them in a position of power, because knowledge is power.
SG: Any dream program or collaboration you hope Autodesk can have in the future?
SO: So many! The one that I have a vision of and it’s really more the brand I could see Autodesk collaborating with is Goldieblox. My two girls love that product. That would be a dream collaboration. I also think my vision that I’m hoping to continue to do at Autodesk is really have people understand that youth and kids are so much more than they give them credit for. Redefining definitions and giving kids a chance to open their eyes a little bit wider, I think that’s the impact of design. If every kid could realize their potential that is a long term aspiration I’m willing to commit to and try for every day.
One last piece of advice from Sarah O’Rourke for all the Smart Girls listening was “if you are excited about something and you’re curious about it, just go for it.”