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February 19. 2013 6:22PM

Women in Technology program graduates the best and brightest


From left, Melissa Plakyda, Rita Andary and Paige McNulty participate in the Women in Technology graduation ceremony on Tuesday at Sky Meadow Country Club. (KIMBERLY HOUGHTON PHOTO)
NASHUA -- Eighteen talented young women have completed a unique program geared toward females with an aptitude in math and science.

On Tuesday, those 18 high school students graduated from the 2012-2013 Women in Technology program organized by BAE Systems in collaboration with area high schools.

Throughout the past several months, the young women were given hands-on opportunities to explore careers in various technical disciplines while working in groups with mentors who support their pursuit of a technical career.

"This is our eighteenth year," Sandi Pelletier of BAE Systems said of the program. "Today, we have the same goal - to encourage kids to explore engineering."

Melissa Plakyda, a senior at Londonderry High School, was one of Tuesday's honored graduates.

"Through this program, I have learned so much," said Plakyda, adding she can now work in a group setting, build and program a robot, create electromagnetic fields and more. She hopes to attend college in the fall to study computer science, noting the Women in Technology program has helped prepare her for the next chapter in her life. Designed to guide young women in making potential educational and career decisions, the program also encourages the graduates to consider BAE Systems as a future employer.

According to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, about 48 percent of the nation's work force consists of women, but only 20 percent of those jobs are included in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields.

"Where our future lies is in innovation," Shaheen told the graduating class, saying jobs in the STEM fields are the fastest growing jobs in the nation.

In New Hampshire, thousands of these jobs will need to be filled by 2018, said Shaheen, adding more must be done to retain men and women in these job positions.

For Paige McNulty, another graduate of the program, the special technical skills learned have helped boost her confidence and pinpoint her future career. McNulty said she hopes to someday become a mechanical or civil engineer, but in the meantime has applied for a summer program at BAE Systems. Technical rotations offered in the program include signal processing, failure analysis, microwave engineering, and electrical, mechanical and software engineering.

"We need to think about this next generation of leadership," said Rep. Annie Kuster, referring to the graduating class as the best and the brightest.

She commended the young women and encouraged them to create technological advances that cannot be envisioned during her lifetime.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte was also present for the graduation Tuesday at Sky Meadow Country Club.

"We need your voice, and we need your leadership," she told the young women, urging them to never take no for an answer and to continue engaging in local leadership opportunities.

Too few women are pursuing STEM careers, according to Ayotte, who said their capabilities are necessary to keep America on the cutting edge of technology.

BAE Systems' School-to-Careers partnership benefits not only the graduates, but the community, the company and the country as well, said Gerard Quintanar, director of engineering development. He praised the newest graduating class, encouraging them to consider future careers at BAE Systems.

khoughton@newstote.com

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