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STEMming from Greatness

Treasure Valley Women in the STEM Field

Article by Chelsea Chambers

Photography by Provided

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

The United States looked a lot different 50 years ago. Women comprised less than 40% of the total workforce and—even more startling—less than 10% of STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math). But things are changing. A 2019 report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that nearly half of the total workforce is now female. And yet another reason to celebrate: women now represent 27% of workers in STEM fields. This is monumental. This is historic. This is the continued fight for female equality.

Meet six Treasure Valley women who’ve devoted themselves to breaking the mold. They’ve chosen to follow their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and are inspiring many along the way.

Jeanne McFall – Ecohydrolic Engineer

Jeanne McFall is the President and Senior Engineer of RIVHAB, an engineering company that specializes in waterway restoration and wildlife and fisheries conservation. Jeanne was born and raised in the Treasure Valley and has a deep admiration for our natural world. She’s long understood the importance of cohabitating with nature, rather than destroying our important ecosystems. It is this mindset that drove her to start RIVHAB, alongside a team of dedicated scientists and engineers.

“In my line of engineering, we examine the big picture (e.g. watershed scale) to determine the root cause of the problem that we’re trying to address,” Jeanne shared. “I worked on a project trying to pass juvenile steelhead salmon through a massive highway culvert near Lewiston. This culvert was 11-ft in diameter, flat bottom concrete, and 170 feet long. There was a trickle of water too thin for fish to swim. The ideal solution was to remove and replace it with a highway bridge, but that was too expensive. So, I worked with another consultant company (HDR) and we designed baffles to be installed on the bottom to provide “step pools” for fish to move through. It was challenging and fun to think through various options, work with a great team and contractor, and ultimately, we restored passage and opened up eight miles of new fish habitat!”

Jeanne, like many women in STEM fields, has had to overcome her fair share of adversities and inequality. “There have been situations where male coworkers and supervisors have belittled me, put me down, made false accusations, and created challenging work environments. As a female engineer, it’s important to recognize this and remain confident in your education, your professionalism, and your expertise. When situations like this arise, never doubt your passion, be excellent at what you do, and your work ethic and ability to outperform will speak volumes.”

Janice Stevenor Dale – Architectural and Interior Designer

Janice is the President of JSDA Inc., a nationally recognized design firm specializing in ‘large-scale corporate interiors, high-end residential and preservation projects.’ JSDA Inc. is ‘designers, architects, makers, and thinkers centered within the professions of design, architecture, product design, branding, industrial design, research, and development. JSDA transforms places and the people who work or live there.’

“I’ve always been a high performer, and the two subjects that I thoroughly felt were second nature to me were Math and Art. We believe in STEM and the importance of art in the process of scientific invention,” shared Janice. “There are few professions that are not related to STEM. Some would question how design is related to STEM, but at close inspection, we’re using CADD drawings with BIM technology that models space in 3D daily. There are endless calculations, dimensions, and specific accuracies required, along with a vast amount of technical and building code knowledge. Our practice is sustainably focused and through the understanding of chemistry, we evaluate known toxins in products through the review of MSDS sheets.”

Janice continues to support her community as a member of the Idaho Women’s Charitable Foundation, Preservation Idaho, Boise Columbian Club, IIDA Boise City Center and Fort Boise Questers. She is also a volunteer on the YMCA Building & Facilities Committee, guiding improvements for long term sustainability.

Kristie Young Chavez – Elevator Mechanics

Kristie is proud to be the president of Young Elevator Inc., a female-owned business that is also the only elevator company in Idaho that builds their own interior cabs. Young Elevator Inc is a family business that dates back to 1995, but has roots and expertise in the early 1970s when her father became an elevator mechanic for the International Union of Elevator Constructors. She, alongside her husband, followed her father’s footsteps and continues to trailblaze the industry of elevator mechanics in Idaho.

“I am passionate about carrying on our family name and providing traditional preventative maintenance and honesty the way the industry was when my father started in the trade in the 70s,” Kristie told us. “We have seen the industry move away from true preventative maintenance and want to bring prompt, personalized service to Southern Idaho. It is very rewarding to problem-solve and see the results from design to the final product.”

“My advice to women pursuing a career in STEM is to first know that, as a woman you are naturally detail-oriented, great at multitasking and have the motivation and drive to be successful,” Kristie shares to her fellow females in the STEM field. “You must be assertive and have a thick skin when necessary. Doors will be slammed in your face and you will feel knocked down at times, but you just have to get back up, dust yourself off, keep going and know that you deserve to be in this field and that you bring value to it.”

Alicia Eikenberry – Structural Engineer

Alicia started her own structural consulting firm—AMDE Structural Consulting—in 2018. Starting her company allowed her the flexibility that she needed to continue to be present for her family, her two boys and her husband. She has always had an interest in math and science and loved architecture, which prompted her to get a degree in Structural Engineering.

When describing what she does for a living, the way she told her children illuminates it best: “I explained what mommy does with LEGO. They are huge fans of LEGO. I tell them I create the instructions people use to build cool projects. My boys called LEGO “construction” for a long time. Basically, I use knowledge of building material and how nature impacts structures to size and place material in a way to make it safe for people.”

“One of the more interesting projects during my career is the work I did at Tesla factory in Fremont,” Alicia said. “I was an engineer for the new three-story facility, working in the rear of the factory near the test track. I got to see the new models before most people knew what they looked like. But I’m also excited about the work I’m doing now with fiberglass rebar and designing 100% concrete houses in hurricane prone areas.”

Jess Fuhrman – CEO of Idaho Women in Technology

As a lifelong Idahoan, Jess has a passion for the outdoors, cooking, dancing, and spicy food. But beyond a full plate of hobbies and interests, Jess is devoted to opening the doors of STEM to women and girls all over the Treasure Valley (and beyond)!

“I founded iWiT (Idaho Women in Technology) and FEMSTEM in 2020 as a nonprofit organization to support and uplift women in the technology industry in Idaho. Our mission is to provide various initiatives, including networking events, educational workshops, mentorship programs, and community outreach,” Jess explained. “Recognizing a significant gender gap in the technology industry, I realized that there was a need for a supportive community for women in tech in Idaho. iWiT has grown to become a prominent voice in the Idaho technology community, advocating for gender equality and providing resources and support to women in the industry.”

Jess continues, “One of the most challenging projects I have worked on is addressing the systemic barriers that women in tech face here in Idaho. This includes tackling issues like gender bias, capital gender inequity, wage gaps, and lack of representation in leadership roles. I have also faced challenges in securing funding and resources, as well as managing the operations of both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. I have wanted to quit 50 times, and every time, something magical happens. Often it’s on the worst days, I am able to help someone connect to something meaningful. A job, a mentor, an opportunity to grow.”

Katie Hirschey – HP Supply Chain Strategist

Katie received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Colorado State University in 2005 and started at HP as an intern. A big advocate for internships, Katie was able to try out different career paths until she found one that was the best fit for her. She decided to pursue a position at HP and is now celebrating over 18 years with the company!

“I chose a career in STEM because I’ve always liked math and science; they came easy to me in school. It was also important to me to be independent and able to make a good living for myself. I thought I wanted to be a surgeon until a high school anatomy class field trip to the cadaver lab proved that I was way too squeamish for that. After that experience, I reconsidered my options and signed up for an introduction to engineering class at my high school focused around digital chip design that was taught by a local HP employee.”

“One of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on was leading a team effort to build a supply chain from scratch consisting of world-class technical suppliers to support the design, development and manufacture of our new product,” shared Katie. “Over the past two years I have traveled tens of thousands of miles globally assessing suppliers’ technical, business, and manufacturing skills. We started with over 30 potential suppliers and through rigorous validation of capabilities we have selected our final suppliers that reside in Central Europe, the United Kingdom, and North America.”

Word to the Wise

Each of these women have had to overcome their own share of challenges and adversities as they continued to advance in primarily male-dominated STEM fields. But in each of their interviews, every single one of them had this message to share: never give up, never back down, and always pursue your passions. Whether it’s science, technology, engineering, math, art, history, writing, music, teaching, politics, sports… the list goes on and on. Follow your dreams. The challenges only serve to make you stronger and more steadfast in your resolve. Let’s keep changing the world, ladies.

The challenges only serve to make you stronger and more steadfast in your resolve.

  • Jeanne McFall
  • Jeanne McFall
  • Jeanne McFall
  • Janice Stevenor Dale
  • Janice Stevenor Dale
  • Kristie Chavez
  • Kristie Chavez
  • Jess Fuhrman
  • Katie Hirschey
  • Alicia Eikenberry
  • Alicia Eikenberry