STEM Programs Jumpstart Careers at General Motors

Spark EV engineer Michelle Taylor says FIRST Robotics helped lead her to a dream career with GM

FIRST is one of many programs and activities focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, that GM and its employees support globally. Each year, Global Manufacturing team members from 169 GM facilities in more than 30 countries participate in some 300 local education initiatives as part of the company’s Driving a Better Tomorrow initiative.

GM sponsors approximately 80 FIRST Robotics teams in total that compete against more than 2,500 other teams globally. The 2014 season culminated this past weekend at the FIRST World Championships, where 24 GM-sponsored teams advanced to the competition. It was a proud moment when one of those 24 teams – Team 469 the Las Guerrillas – walked away as the world champions. (Stay tuned for a follow up blog post about Las Guerillas.)

Employees from GM help mentor FIRST students as a way to help youth learn and develop the necessary tools to apply towards a future STEM-related career. One example of how STEM programs like FIRST help kick start careers can be seen in Michelle Taylor, an engineer on the Spark EV team. Michelle has been with GM since she was just 16 years old when she participated in a high school internship program at the General Motors test lab. See our Q&A with her below to learn more.

Spark-EV_Michelle-Taylor-sml2FastLane: Can you tell us about your current role at GM?

Michelle Taylor: I am currently a Design Release Engineer for Spark EV’s charge receptacle and Technical Lead for its DC Fast Charging capability. I have been in this role for two years, but with GM for eight years now – since I was 16. I currently split my time between the General Motors Technical Center and the General Motors Proving Grounds.

FL: When did you realize you were interested in STEM?

MT: In seventh grade I participated in a program called IMaST (or Integrated Mathematics, Science, and Technology) and that was really my first venture into the world of STEM. One of my mentors in the program opened my eyes to what a career in engineering is like, and he’s really the one who planted the seed in my mind that this is what I was meant to do. He suggested I get involved in FIRST in high school, and the rest is history! I joined a FIRST team and participated in another tech program that GM sponsored at the time, and between those activities I had a huge opportunity to see what life inside of GM was like and learn about what it really means to be an engineer. I quickly realized that there’s a lot more to engineering than sitting behind a desk!

FL: How did FIRST and other programs help jumpstart your career?

MT: Between FIRST and the other tech program I was involved with, I was able to build so many connections early on. I started building my network when I just 15 versus waiting until I was out of college. Building that network in high school was invaluable in launching my career. I’ve met so many new people along the way while staying connected to the people who have been there since the very beginning stages of my career. Some of my mentors from FIRST in high school are now colleagues of mine.

FL: What advice would you give students who are interested in STEM-related careers?

MT: Get involved in a STEM program! There are so many great programs out there, and that’s where you’ll get the hands-on experience from people that have the jobs you could have someday. You’ll get a feel for what engineers do on a day-to-day basis and see what types of math, science and technology-related careers are out there.

FL: What’s been the most rewarding moment in your career to date?

MT: We recently launched the Spark EV, and I was in California doing the unveiling of the first DC fast charger in the U.S. While driving a Spark EV, I passed another Spark EV on the road and the driver waved as they went by. It was a moment where I thought to myself, “That’s so cool! I’ve been working on this car for two years now and here it is on the road today.” It’s a great feeling when all your time and hard work come to life.

FL: What are people surprised to hear your job entails?

MT: People are often surprised to hear how many people touch a vehicle. A lot of people think that there’s a team of 20 or 30 people working on one vehicle, but the reality is that there are hundreds if not thousands of engineers that have a hand in the process. Some people also think I sit behind a desk everyday, which certainly isn’t the case in my role!

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