October 22, 2012 · A female astronaut who recently spent time in the International Space Station landed in Wheeling to discuss the importance of mentoring new business leaders, especially women.
In an effort to serve the non-profit’s mission of diversifying the state’s economy and promoting economic prosperity and high-paying jobs, TechConnectWV recently brought together panelists and students to discuss roles women play in typically higher-paying fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in WV.
TechConnectWV is a statewide economic development organization that works to promote businesses and entrepreneurial activities throughout the state.
Executive Director, Anne Barth, is especially passionate about reaching out to women in the state.
“We think that advancing women in technology is a good was to begin to cultivate more entrepreneurs in the state. And we saw it as a way to also help technology because women bring a lot of talent and expertise to the table but often need some special support mechanisms and nurturing to really realize the full benefit of their talents.”
Barth explains that the idea for the conference was born in response to the fact that women are underrepresented across all sectors of technology, across the nation.
“So our vision is that, at least here in West Virginia, we pretty much all know each other and if we came together and began to address the issue, we could affect change and do something about it. So we see this conference as a way to begin that discussion and dialogue and talk about the things that are needed to support the women who are in technology already, but also to get more to go into the field.”
In an effort to serve this end and to provide a powerful mentor for participants, Barth invited female astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger to be the key-note speaker of the event.
Metcalf-Lindenburger is a mother and recently spent 6 months in orbit around the Earth with thirteen other astronauts from countries around the world on board the International Space Station. She explained that from an early age it was a life-goal of hers to become an astronaut:
“I became interested in being an astronaut around the third grade. That was because Sally Ride and then Kathryn Sullivan flew right in that time frame and it suddenly was possible that young women could go to space from the United States
“My parents were actively involved in taking me to museums and so this information was coming from them as well as from the outside, and it just sparked my curiosity. I was already interested in space but to know that you could go out and be a human being in space seemed really exciting to me.”
Metcalf-Lindenburger wowed participants with descriptions of developing NASA projects and photographs and stories illustrating her perspective of the earth from orbit. She showed a picture of a 7-windowed copula, a new module build on the bottom of the space station to observe the earth. She says it was there that she created some of her most vivid and profound memories.
“We were coming across Washington and Oregon. Seeing the volcanoes from that perspective and being able to—the volcanoes are so distinctive from space and immediately I could pick out where I had taught, where I went to college
“That’s a personal moment that was just—wow. Earth is incredible. This is where I come from. Look at where I am at this moment! It’s so surreal! The Earth is gorgeous. I don’t know—it just was an incredible moment.
Metcalf-Lindenburger also participated in a panel discussion on the importance of mentoring. Among other sessions offered was a forum to discuss what it takes to launch a start-up company, from business plan to legal structure, to finances
Investment Manager Michele O’Connor with the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust was a panelist who answered questions and spread the word about funds the quasi-state agency has to invest in small businesses throughout the state
“We were now piggy-backing into the WV Capital Access program,” O’Connor says, “which was funded through the US Treasury, through the 2010 Jobs Act, and we received $13.1 million to invest in West Virginians, in their companies, their start-ups, their expansions. So we’re using this as an opportunity to tell everybody what we’re doing.”
O’Connor says the trust has already invested $6 million in a variety of companies throughout the state ranging from automotive and industrial industries to agribusinesses.
“Businesses are starting and people are coming up with this entrepreneurial mindset. And I think we’ve seen a record number of business licenses here within the state, and I think that spirit is boiling up and coming to the surface here in West Virginia. We’re excited about being able to meet all those people and to help them.”
O’Connor says there is an underwhelming number of women who approach the trust to try to access available resources. She thinks it’s not for lack of female business owners, but because more outreach is needed. O’Connor and many other panelists are looking forward to future women’s conferences to tackle just this issue.