Careers of the Future

Meet some of the cool professionals making a difference in STEM fields around the region.



Pittsburgh’s top employers have thousands of job opportunities for students in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. The problem? Parents and their children aren’t aware of the many fascinating career paths that are possible today and, hence, aren’t preparing for them.

This special “Careers of the Future” section was designed to capture the imagination of parents and their children by introducing them to cool young people working in interesting, rewarding jobs that they may never have heard of. We thank our sponsoring organizations—Lanxess Corp., West Virginia University, United States Steel Corp., Thermo Fisher Scientific and FedEx Ground—for telling us more about Shakita, Miriam, Sarah, Lee and Amy, who are profiled in this section. These five young people are embarking on promising careers that will help fuel our community and economy for years.

National data has shown that STEM occupations have grown three times faster than non-STEM careers over the last decade. It’s estimated that one million additional STEM graduates will be needed over the next 10 to 15 years to fill economic demands. This region alone will require more than 150,000 new STEM employees.

Carnegie Science Center is a hands-on scientific hub for parents, students and teachers that uses the power of informal science education to inspire young people to pursue STEM pathways and envision themselves as future innovators.

In November, the Science Center launched the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, backed by support from Chevron and founding partners California University of Pennsylvania, Duquesne Light, Eaton Corp., Lanxess Corporation, NOVA Chemicals and PPG Industries Foundation.

While some STEM education initiatives have been in place throughout the region, the Chevron STEM Center seeks to sharpen the focus of existing programs and approach them in a more concerted way. Built on collaboration and a committed community, the STEM Center convenes various STEM stakeholders to coordinate efforts for the greatest impact.

Several Science Center programs, like the annual Engineer the Future and Chemfest weekends, bring in local corporations to offer dozens of hands-on demonstrations. Twice yearly, SciTech Days follows a similar model for four-day periods, serving 6,000 students annually. Tour Your Future takes girls inside the workplaces of female STEM professionals.
Already in its first few months of existence, the Chevron STEM Center has formed partnerships with Pine Richland and Upper St. Clair school districts and PA Cyber to help them strengthen their math and science curricula with exciting career opportunities and project-based learning that will inspire students to embrace STEM studies for the long haul.

The Science Center’s Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair (PRSEF) reinforces that mission by celebrating student’s scientific accomplishments. In May, students from around the globe competed at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held in Pittsburgh for the first time—thanks largely to the strong reputation of PRSEF and the efforts of Carnegie Science Center.

This month, the Chevron STEM Center is partnering with Math & Science Collaborative and WTAE-TV to launch a community awareness campaign called Math + Science = Success. Targeting parents, educators and students, the campaign aims to encourage kids to enroll in math and science courses. “There is no math gene” and “All kids can learn math and science” are among the messages the campaign delivers to parents and their children. Math + Science = Success, sponsored by FedEx Ground, provides online resources at mathsciencesuccess.org for parents, teachers and kids to help keep interest in science and math percolating.

Right now, the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs require solid math and science skills. Completing advanced math in high school is proven to influence college graduation rates, and taking math beyond Algebra II doubles a student’s chances of earning a bachelor’s degree.
Our modern society is built on science and technology. In order to be educated and engaged citizens of the world in the 21st century, everyone needs to understand STEM. The Chevron STEM Center will help guarantee that our children are ready to face the challenges of the century ahead.

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Growing up, Shakita Trigg always knew that she would someday work in the math and science fields. Now, she has made a career out of those dreams as an Industrial Engineer at FedEx Ground.

With this position, Shakita, 33, works to support the field engineering and pickup and delivery operations in Canada and the western United States. Specifically, she develops analysis and reporting tools for field operations to help control and justify operational costs. She also works with the quality actions teams to help design, implement and evaluate new procedures and technologies.  

Prior to joining FedEx Ground, Shakita jumped into a one-year internship at another company as an Industrial Engineer Management Trainee. There she gained knowledge in safety policies and procedures, project management and more—a primer for her future success at FedEx Ground. Shakita is further advancing her knowledge as she pursues a Master of Science degree.

While the processing of packages is highly automated, it still involves people. These packages enter the system via a people-system interaction. As an engineer, Shakita focuses on how those persons can be more productive and expend less energy—with every decision meant to provide the best service possible to FedEx Ground customers.

FedEx Ground specializes in cost-effective, small-package shipping and is the leading provider of ground small-package delivery services, providing service to the U.S. and Canada. At FedEx Ground there are approximately 750 people working in Engineering, 600 employees in Information Technology and 200 employees in Accounting & Finance. In just the Engineering area, FedEx Ground hired 25 new engineer positions in the last 12 months, and 14 current employees moved into engineer positions.

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Miriam Petrella, 24, works as a management associate for quality assurance at United States Steel Corporation, a leading manufacturer of steel products for over a century.

Keeping in mind U. S. Steel’s mission of providing high quality materials, Miriam primarily works with operators to limit irregularities. Her daily tasks include examining coils (flat-rolled sheet products) that have irregularities and deciding on whether to release or re-treat them as required.

Miriam found her way into this field after studying chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University as well as holding various internships that prepared her for a career in chemistry. She completed internships with TIMET and Koppers prior to joining U. S. Steel.

In addition to the chemistry field, U. S. Steel offers jobs in a wide variety of other fields in STEM. Plenty of opportunities can be found in the civil, computer, electrical, environmental, industrial, manufacturing, mechanical, and metallurgical and mining engineering fields. Other opportunities exist in material science, operations management and a variety of information technology fields.  

One of the ways that U. S. Steel builds on their strength is by recruiting and developing a diverse group of talented individuals to lead U. S. Steel through another century of success. Their goal is to attract, develop and retain a workforce of talented, diverse people—all working together to create an environment where everyone can excel, reach one’s fullest potential and contribute the best work possible. U. S. Steel values the varied perspectives of their employees whose contributions support U. S. Steel’s core values, which include diversity and inclusion as well as accountability, safety, environmental stewardship, and a focus on cost, quality and customer results.

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Nearly 7,000 miles away, Sarah Soliman lives in Afghanistan and works at a defense technology company where she uses biometric technology applications to aid in the safety and security in Afghanistan.

On a daily basis, Sarah, 27, can be found conducting training classes with soldiers on how to use biometric equipment, troubleshooting hardware and software problems and explaining to military leadership how biometric technology can impact their work.

In order to prepare for this career, Sarah received a degree in biometric systems and computer engineering at West Virginia University. She also completed internships at the White House and the Department of Defense Biometrics Identity Management Agency. In addition, she spent a semester as a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellow to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Biometric systems, which Sarah studied at WVU, are composed of complex hardware and software designed to measure a signature of the human body, compare the signature to a database and render a decision for a given application based on the identification achieved from this matching process. Biometric systems are increasingly used in law enforcement, access control, banking, a wide range of business and administrative systems and health care.

The FBI named West Virginia University its national leader for biometrics research, and it is identified as the academic arm of the FBI’s Biometric Center of Excellence. WVU also offers students the largest crime-scene training complex, and students benefit from real-world internships. WVU is dedicated to promoting STEM education and recently won a National Science Foundation ADVANCE Grant, which aims to increase the number of women faculty in STEM fields at WVU.

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At Lanxess Corporation, Lee Plummer, corporate development manager, works hard to keep Lanxess a leader in the chemistry industry. On any given day, Lee can be found analyzing a potential acquisition target, monitoring industry events and trends or participating in global team discussions about Lanxess’ sustainable development goals and growth strategies.

Lee, 25, is also eager to talk about his career and the work he is doing for Lanxess with students. At a recent STEM symposium, he had the chance to share his and Lanxess’ story with high school students interested in science and technology careers. It is through volunteerism like this, as well as classroom outreach and teacher mentoring, that Lanxess employees help to build a bridge for the scientists of the future. It is the goal of the Xplore Science with Lanxess program to demonstrate to students of all ages how science is cool, and learning is fun. Lanxess is doing its part to ensure that students are provided with the skills and resources to find meaningful employment in and around our community.

Lanxess and the entire chemical industry is truly in the eye-of-the-hurricane when it comes to workers. The industry is in the midst of losing the baby boomer generation to retirement, and the national statistics indicate that the number of future science and chemistry workers are way too low. Lanxess supports science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education initiatives to encourage students to study these exciting fields with the hope that some choose STEM careers in their future.

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Amy Laura is everywhere she wants to be—working at the office, in the lab and within the community. After completing an internship studying treatments for estrogen-dependent cell lines, she joined Cellomics, Inc. (now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific).

As a senior scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Amy manages a team focused on high content analysis, which utilizes software, hardware and cell biology to help drive the drug discovery process. This group is also at the forefront of consumer safety, helping manufacturers to identify toxins before they can inflict harm.

When Amy isn’t managing her team and conducting experiments, she works to promote STEM education in and around Pittsburgh. She works closely with the Pittsburgh branch of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s network of Community Action Councils (CAC), an employee-based initiative that engages teams and communities around the world. Amy speaks with students and teachers about careers, judges science fairs and attends STEM-centered functions.

At Thermo Fisher Scientific, many of the employees come from a STEM background and work in a STEM field—from finance and chemistry to information technology and microbiology. The company is also proud to offer a dynamic sales force, comprised of subject matter experts with a scientific laboratory background. In addition, employees with STEM backgrounds are recruited for technical writing, applications specialist, legal, managerial and marketing positions.

To stimulate young STEM enthusiasts, Thermo Fisher produces a quarterly scientific magazine for K-12 teachers and offers shadow mentoring with high school students looking for a future in STEM. The company also provides undergraduate leadership development programs in operations, information technology and finance, and a graduate leadership development program for recent MBA graduates. These two-year, rotational programs are designed for graduates to accelerate their careers and become leaders at Thermo Fisher.
 

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