Islin contacted us after she learned about Girl Museum when her friend Kaitlyn Reed Bunker was featured on our blog. I was so excited to hear from another STEM Girl and I enjoyed getting to know Islin a little bit better through emails. I was especially excited because Islin just moved to Anchorage, which is a city I fell in love with 4 years ago while working as an intern at the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature. Islin shared some interesting ideas about her unique STEM career, see our conversation below.
Hillary: The first thing I would love to know about is how are you liking Alaska?
Islin: I just moved here about two months ago, and I love Alaska! Ever since I came to a friend’s wedding here in August 2014, I have decided to “move my own cheese” and chart my own career move here. Anchorage is about the size of Aurora, Colorado, my hometown in terms of the number of people here, and there is very little traffic in the mornings and during rush hour. The mountains are beautiful here, and you can see the Cook Inlet from the Hillside neighborhood in Anchorage. I just visited the zoo this past weekend with my two kids and my mom while my husband was out in the field, and it was very relaxing there. My son couldn’t get away from the golden and bald eagles!
Hillary: Where are you working? Describe what you do.
Islin: I am working for the State of Alaska, Department of Natural Resources as a petroleum reservoir engineer. I serve on a multidisciplinary team (with geologists, geophysicists, land, and finance) to provide recommendations for annual Plan of Development and Exploration approvals on oil and gas fields throughout the State. I analyze engineering data to formulate strategies and recommend actions to maximize the value of the State’s oil and gas resources. I also audit reservoir simulations for tract allocations in equity redeterminations, and provide guidance on leasing agreements and unit operating agreements for the benefit of the state, as well as answer any queries from the State Legislature. I advise the Department of Natural Resources commissioner and Division Director in providing technical feedback for oil and gas policies and regulations. Ultimately, I ensure that there is no waste in the production of Alaska’s natural resources, per our statues.
Hillary: Did you enjoy science as a little girl? If so, what got you interested in STEM at a young age?
Islin: I really enjoyed observing nature and taking part in it‚ lighting paper on fire with a magnifying lens (with adult supervision since I was 5 at the time), creating roly-poly nests, catching grasshoppers, lady bugs, and the occasional dragonfly. I also enjoyed doing math. But it wasn’t until I was trying to decide which college to go to that I actually thought I had a fighting chance in STEM. It has been perceived as a field that women don’t actually go into, even though there are plenty of nurses and other STEM professionals in the medical arena and I went along with those perceptions until I was 17. I was going to be a diehard English major at Smith College until that point.
Hillary: Did you have teachers in your K-12 education or your college experience that inspired you to pursue STEM?
Islin: I remember Mrs. Bartholomew especially, who taught me AP Chemistry. She really pushed me during my sophomore year to do my best work, and recommended me to go to the Frontiers of Science Institute at the University of Northern Colorado. That 6-week summer program really taught me about the dynamics of working on teams and asking for what you want. I was initially on a research project I wasn’t necessarily interested in, but I asked the coordinator and they were able to pair me with a different lab.
Hillary: What do you enjoy most about your job in engineering?
Islin: My favorite thing about being an engineer is that what I do is absolutely necessary for first world economies to survive and thrive, produce energy in the form of oil and gas. As a petroleum reservoir engineer for the State of Alaska in the Division of Natural Resources, I advise on Plan of Developments and Exploration, provide technical input on questions from the Legislature, among other duties. My job in the public sector gives me a clear priority that I work for the people in the State of Alaska to make sure that operators maximize the oil and gas produced from the subsurface (sometimes up to 6 miles underground!).
Hillary: Nature is a big part of STEM since there is science, technology, engineering, and math all around us in the natural world. Have you had any interesting STEM experiences with nature?
Islin: Growing up in Colorado, I was really interested in the weather because it changed so quickly. Don’t play on the street in a lightning storm. Your hair really does “stand on end” right before lightning strikes. I was about 100 feet away from the strike when it happened. But wow that was fun (and loud)! Yes I am very lucky. No I am not doing that again. I also observed a tornado about two miles away from my bedroom window via binoculars, picking up some grass and dust. It was short lived. I should have probably been in my basement in retrospect. I did watch Storm Chasers regularly while in college.
Hillary: Do you try to enrich your own daughter’s life with STEM? How do you bring those concepts into her life?
Islin: I moved up to Anchorage from Houston so that the kids could be closer to nature. We teach a lot of the “why” – why she buckles up, why does the snow melt‚ trying to stoke her curiosity. I also try to emphasize more on the safety aspect now I have learned “the hard way.” I also enjoy getting her to play with money and seeing what each coin is worth, and how much is the whole stack of coins worth.
Hillary: What is your biggest career goal?
Islin: I am not sure who I want to be when I grow up. I want to continue working as a reservoir engineer, and also be there for my husband and my kids. I want to have the time to devote to the projects that I find most important.
Hillary: What advice do you have for girls and women who enjoy STEM hobbies or are considering pursuing a career in a STEM field?
a. Go where your interests lay – your curiosity is the biggest clue on what to do next. Learn to listen to yourself and your intuition.
b. Get a community of people to support you – not just your parents, but friends, professors, engineers, computer scientists – the list goes on. I can tell you, that if it wasn’t for my husband (who was my college sweetheart), mentors and the Society of Women Engineers, I wouldn’t have continued to be an engineer today.
c. Run the economics. See how much an average chemist vs. English major vs. petroleum engineer makes per year. See how much your lifestyle at your parent(s)’ house costs. You would be surprised. You shouldn’t choose a major solely for the money, but you should know what you are signing up for, eyes wide open.
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