Two Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) staffers — Rhonda Oyer (Materials Management Division) and Chris Veldkamp (Water Resources Division) — are serving as role models as part of the Michigan Science Center’s STEMinista Project. The online project features women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. It is designed for girls in the 4th through 8th grades and offers programs in STEM with girls in mind.
On the role model part of the website, Chris and Rhonda (and others) get to show off their interesting STEM jobs and inspire the next generation of STEMinistas. STEMinista role models provide profiles full of fun facts about themselves and what they were like when they were younger, and their school and career paths. It is hoped this STEM inspiration can help get girls involved in making a difference all over the world.
Oyer says that when she was in 4th through 8th grades, her least favorite subject was math, and her most favorite subjects were English and science classes. "Being a good writer helps you communicate ideas about science with a variety of people," said Rhonda. "When I got my degree from Michigan State University in interdepartmental biological science, I didn't know I would spend my career 'talking trash,'" she laughs. Rhonda is the Solid Waste section manager in the Materials Management Division where she administers programs regulating the management of end-of-life materials or what most people think of as trash. Rhonda is also pursuing her master’s degree in biology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. "I am a big believer in life-long education. It is important to never stop learning and to keep your science skills current and relevant."
Veldkamp always loved the earth sciences and biology, in particular. From age 13 she knew she wanted a career in something that involved oceans, lakes, and streams. Unfortunately, Chris got sidelined by "life" and didn't complete her bachelor's degree from Aquinas College in biology until she was 36 years old. A master's degree from Grand Valley State University in public administration followed more than 10 years later. She is now the statewide National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System compliance specialist for the Water Resources Division as well as an inspector of facilities that discharge treated wastewater to surface waters of the state. Her job varies every day and may include going out with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on fish egg takes or walking a stream to search out the source of pollution. "Every day, I go to work I feel like I make a difference, however small, in protecting our vast and incredibly important water resources in Michigan. There are some days that I think to myself… 'Wow, I can't believe they pay me to do this!'" Veldkamp's message to all is that you are never too old to follow your dream, and you should never quit until you reach it.
Would you like to show off your STEM career and excite girls about getting into STEM? Sign up to be a STEMinista today and you'll get the The STEMinista Star– the newsletter that lets you know all the fun and exciting things STEMinistas can do at the Michigan Science Center, and serve as a role model for the next round of women scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.