by Gloria Welton
Skye Ables is in her second year of the Electrical Engineering program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She is preparing to go into the biomedical field to design prosthetics.
Her journey to discovering her passion and drive was a bumpy road. Now, she has a deep desire to share her experiences and dreams with other young females, hoping to inspire and help them discover the best version of themselves.
STEM is an abbreviation for four closely connected areas of study: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Over the years, the labour market has been underrepresented with women in the STEM field.
As a young girl, Skye was aware that women role models were mainly focused on beauty. She wondered about why she had not heard about female scientists, doctors, engineers, and CEOs. “Donna Strickland won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. Tiera Guinn was a 21-year-old scientist helping build a rocket for NASA. The accomplishments of women who have done great things are barely talked about.
“Because of the lack of women role models, I was afraid to show who I really am, a girl who absolutely loves learning.”
As Skye went through the school system, she hid who she was inside, was uncertain of her talents, and tried to live up to social expectations. Now she is a role model for the next generation of young female engineers.
She urges us all to contribute positively to the education of females. “Globally and locally, we still have a long way to go to make a difference in helping youth be who they can be.”
“I used to hide my anxiety and nervousness behind my long blonde hair. I felt if I expressed myself, people would think I was a nerd and a know-it-all. It all was overwhelming and exhausting. Finding the balance between caution and anxiety is hard, and it is an uphill battle to get past the self-doubt.
“Around the age of seven, I started to feel the effects of hiding behind a fake personality created to please others. I pretended to be what I was not, and I felt so alone. I wish I had known that others struggle with this too.”
Skye was born in Ottawa and moved with her family to Atlanta, Georgia. “The Georgia school system was excellent. In second grade I was placed in a gifted program. It was a very exciting time but even in those early years my classmates were putting me down and I was doubting who I was.
“In the gifted program, my doubts slowly went away as I met other students who thought the same way I did. However, in the middle of fifth grade my family moved to a small town in New Brunswick. My peers spoke French, which added to my stress level.
“I had to walk into a class with children who most likely knew each other since birth. I quickly learned that I was in a grade level below my abilities. I stood out even more and was considered a know-it-all so I stopped talking in class.
“My anxiety grew worse and I suffered in silence. About halfway through seventh grade I asked my mom if I could skip a grade. I am so thankful that my parents and the school staff took the time to decide what was best for me, because my love for learning and my emotional health were at risk.
“School staff have so much influence over their student’s lives. It is critical for students to have a strong connection with at least one adult at school who can motivate, empower, and vouch for them.
“In high school, I was challenged every day. Even though I was enjoying my classes and making friends, I was still struggling to accept myself. High school is not only about education. It is about finding yourself and your place in society.
“I was torn between what I wanted and what others wanted for me. I was trying to be two people at once, and it was taking a toll on me. The voice of insecurity was getting louder. Even though I was learning a lot I could not express my knowledge.
“I needed to find happiness within myself and my life. I felt very alone even when surrounded by friends. I did not dare reach out in fear that people would lose respect for me because of the stigma associated with mental health.”
Mental health supports that work
“Mental health awareness is on the rise, but it is still not fully incorporated into the school system. It is important to continue promoting awareness and supports such as free therapy sessions, counselling, and understanding that it is ok to have a bad day.
“Schools need safe and calm places where students can recharge and find an adult to support them. There should be more resources available to get students the help they need.”
The moment everything changed
She continued to suffer on the inside until grade eleven, when she joined the Current Generation, an after-school science program that tackles real-world Engineering challenges. “That changed everything for me.”
In a competition in New York, she met women working in the STEM field who were making a real difference and changing lives.
“A young girl came up to our booth and I showed her how to use a soldering iron and helped her build a circuit. She had a huge smile on her face and told her mom she was going to be an Electrical Engineer at NASA. My heart melted and I was overcome with joy.
“It was a life-defining moment, and I decided to pursue a career in engineering in hopes of inspiring other young girls to become the best version of themselves. My anxiety went down, I found my passion, and I learned to love who I am. I became the role model I had been missing in my young life.”
Skye was inspired by how much good engineers can do in the world. She set her sights on the Biomedical field, which combines biology and engineering principles to solve healthcare issues.
“I toured the University of New Brunswick BioMedical lab and was so impressed. The students and professors were doing amazing work with prostheses. I decided UNB was the university for me and I have never regretted that decision.”
Skye says the journey to self-acceptance created stronger and deeper relationships with family and friends. “My mental health and life improved when I accepted who I was: someone who loves school, science fairs, helping people, and building and creating.
“Two years ago, I was able to stand in front of a big group of people and tell them my story, my weaknesses, and my struggles. This is huge for a girl who could not raise her hand in class for years. It is all because my final years in high school empowered me to be the best version of myself.
“I worked hard to get on the dean’s list in university, and even though the program requires an insane amount of work, there is nothing I would rather do. I have accepted that I am smart and passionate, I love to work hard, and I am proud of who I am.”
Supports and resources in place to explore the STEM field on PEI
Bricks 4 Kidz uses LEGO® products to provide a fun, hands-on learning and building experience focused on STEM concepts. Call 902-393-2439.
Canadian Alliance for Skills & Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) offers a place to kickstart or grow a career in life sciences through specialized training. Life Sciences continues to be an area of high demand, from COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics, to understanding climate change, feeding the world sustainably, and more.
The PEI BioAlliance is dedicated to building the Island’s bioscience cluster, which includes more than 60 companies and research and development organizations such as the National Research Council, UPEI, the Atlantic Veterinary College, Holland College, Agriculture and AgriFood Canada, and BioFoodTech.
Also, check with your local schools and communities for after-school and summer camp science and technology programs.