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STEM

Why STEM? Williams women share how they got started.

Susan Simpson

From makeshift Barbie ski jumps to summer thunderstorms and grandmothers that never gave up, Williams employees in STEM roles have unique stories about how they got involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math careers.

We’re featuring a few of them here with short Q&As.

Amy Shank, director Pipeline Safety and Asset Integrity, Tulsa

How did you become interested in pursuing a STEM career?

 I knew I wanted to be someone that created things from the time I was five or six. When I was around nine, I was on a kick of playing “Barbie goes skiing”.  I created a ski lift that spanned from one corner of my room to the other that included mechanical pulleys and was fashioned out of twine, cardboard, and a whole lot of masking tape.

Who were you inspired by and why?

I have to say that my father has been and continues to be my biggest source of inspiration. He is a master-degreed aerospace engineer who worked for a defense contractor during the space race in the 60’s and then went to law school at night and changed careers entirely at the age of 44. While his career path was really cool, it is not what has inspired me the most. What has inspired me most is my dad’s unapologetic and unwavering support of me following my dreams and working to achieve my goals in what has been primarily a male dominated career path and industry. Wanting to make him proud is something that continues to drive me to do my best every single day.

What would you tell someone interested in a STEM career at Williams? 

I would tell them to stay authentic to who they are instead of trying to be someone else’s idea of who they should be. Even though the percentage of women in STEM programs is increasing, women will continue to be a minority in the Energy industry for many years to come. The diversity of viewpoints, experiences, and even the way we process information adds tremendous value and makes decision-making exponentially better. Embrace and appreciate the differences you bring to the table. Don’t change yourself to be like everyone else.


Sara Swanson, Engineer, North Canton, Ohio

How did you become interested in pursuing a STEM career?

I pursued STEM, specifically chemical engineering, at the recommendation of my chemistry teacher in high school. I had a knack for chemistry, joining our Chem Olympics teams, as well as winning a competition for my county and receiving a monetary reward. I discussed my options with my chemistry teacher, who suggested I pursue chemical engineering in undergrad. I am a first-generation college student, so the prospect of going to college and majoring in engineering was pretty daunting. I am very lucky to have had parents who saw the value in higher education and pushed me to pursue this course.

Who were you inspired by and why?

I would say that I am inspired by my Grandma. She was born a sharecropper’s daughter in Arkansas, and actually had a university scholarship for basketball. She had to decline it due to the needs of the family on the farm (and women didn’t tend to go to university in those days). She worked very hard all her life to provide for her children so that they could go to school, but neither of them chose to go down that path. She later became the mayor of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, and went on to seek a college degree in her golden years. She chose to go after her dreams and goals, and never let anything get in her way.

What would you tell someone interested in a STEM career at Williams?

Stick with STEM if it is your passion. There are many great opportunities and careers that will come out of an interest in STEM. It is something that will always be needed as we progress over time. Specifically at Williams, the work you complete can improve the daily lives of operators, secure affordable energy pricing and access in the United States, limit or mitigate impacts to our environment, and fuel industry in areas of the country where previously jobs were scarce. Working as an engineer is mentally stimulating, and I truly feel that I get to make a daily impact with the projects and goals I am working on. At Williams, you can do the same!


Karent Balda, Engineer Sr., Houston

How did you become interested in pursuing a STEM career?

One of my 7th grade teachers asked me if I wanted to participate in a program where different schools competed around knowledge of the oil and gas industry. I was part of that program for three years and as part of it we had the opportunity to learn from experts in the oil and gas industry. That program is what started my passion for engineering.

Who were you inspired by and why?

The experts in the oil and gas industry I was able to listen to, and how they were able to share knowledge on very complex topics to school kids. They conveyed so much passion and understanding of the challenges and opportunities the industry had at that time, and they did it in a way that I wanted to be part of it.   

What would you tell a young person interested in a STEM career at Williams?

Although we are in a well-established industry, there are always challenges that come out and require the expertise and knowledge of people with a STEM background. With all the efforts to minimize the impact to the environment and provide reliable energy to the country, there are a lot of opportunities in our field.


Nicole Goshorn, Project Reporting and Analytics Specialist, Tulsa

How did you become interested in pursuing a STEM career?

I always knew I would do something in science. It was always my favorite subject in school. Then when I saw the movie Space Camp back in 1986 as a kid, with a young Joaquin Phoenix, that was it. I was going to be an astronaut. I was nine at the time, and that was my solid confirmation that science was going to be my life’s passion.

Who were you inspired by and why?

Rachel Carson was a local PA girl like me, who really shook some political ground with the EPA that led to nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. All within a time period that it was not commonplace for women to even work, let alone pursue scientific studies.

What would you tell a young person interested in a STEM career at Williams?

Williams is a great place to start your career and also retire from it. We are a company that invests in our employees. We treat each other as family and are top notch when it comes to ethics and safety. We work hard and play hard, and there is no better place to expand your career and interests than here.


Thuy-Ai Ngo, Network Analyst, Tulsa

How did you become interested in pursuing a STEM career?

I became interested in pursuing a STEM career since my Dad was in the IT field. I have a Business degree and a minor in MIS (Management Information Systems). When I started with Williams, I was in the Marketing Department but later found out that IT was more interesting. Technology was always changing so the learning process never stops. 

Who were you inspired by and why?

I was inspired by my Dad. He had gone back to school to get a degree while working during the day. A college education was something that he wanted all of us to have. We came from a family of six kids. My goal is to keep learning every day.

What would you tell a young person interested in a STEM career at Williams? 

Apply for Williams summer intern programs through the college career fairs. The student will get exposure to real world situations, can contribute to the company and will have an experience to remember! 


Kelly Wrona, manager, GIS, Pittsburgh

How did you become interested in pursuing a STEM career?

From a young age, I had a fascination with severe weather. I loved thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail; and better yet, I loved watching them form in the hot Texas afternoons. Meteorology became my focus at age 13 and that led me to a collegiate career in physics and mathematics. Although I’m still a dedicated weather nerd, I found a second love in big data processing, satellite imagery analysis, and other forms of GIS work (all of which were discovered while processing weather data).

Who were you inspired by and why?

I had two mentors in college, Dr. Kevin Kloesel and Dr. May Yuan at The University of Oklahoma. Dr. Kloesel is a fun, energetic weather enthusiast and my first professor in the meteorology program. Although highly esteemed in his field, a very approachable, encouraging figure to all freshman entering an intensely competitive and cutthroat meteorology program. I met Dr. Yuan later. She ran the GIS program at OU, is a highly sought-after academic mind in spatio-temporal data analysis and was tireless in her pursuits of funding her research. She succeeded. She was backed by NASA, NSF, NOAA, and many other research institutions.  Between the two of them, I always had honest advice, unbelievable technical expertise, and a bit of tough love.

What would you tell a young person interested in a STEM career at Williams?

Persevere. You don’t have the be the smartest person in your class (and you likely aren’t). I struggled through my first couple of years, trying to rise to an impossibly high bar through six levels of calculus, engineering physics, and atmospheric dynamics. I didn’t always succeed the first time, but I found ways to teach myself. Know that a career in STEM is rewarding, both intellectually and personally. Know that a career in STEM can help you achieve more outside of work than inside of work: independence and autonomy. Know that a career in STEM is possible!