Molly Harwood didn’t start out with aspirations to be an engineer. In fact, she simply liked drawing.
“I studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, where I originally went for illustration,” Harwood says. “But I became interested in industrial design after I started to make things. My school placed a really large emphasis on learning from hands-on experience.”
‘Hands-On’ leads to ‘All-in’
Her experience aligns with scores of studies that indicate women engineers seek out opportunities to use creativity, ideation and iteration in solving engineering problems. Engaging female students who are interested in engineering by offering them the opportunity to make things is often the first step on a path that leads to a career in a STEM field.
And for Molly, that was exactly what happened. Her initial exposure sparked her interest in “making things that were even more ‘extreme’ or efficient,” she notes.
Tackling the challenges of space
Harwood’s interest in improving the efficiency of products made for extreme environments led her to look toward a place where those items aren’t just the outliers, they’re virtually required: Space.
“I decided to take the position at NASA because designing for extreme environments is one of the hardest things to do in design,” she says. “With such limited knowledge about what we’re actually designing for, and the needs of humans in such a specific intense environment… it’s a huge challenge.”
These kinds of challenges offer her opportunities to grow her skillsets and keep her engaged in her work as an Industrial Designer. And recent data indicates that growth opportunities are a key factor in keeping talented women in technical fields.
Some might find the immense task of constantly being asked to create solutions for problems with so many unknown variables daunting. But Harwood finds the constant challenges motivating.
“I think what motivates me most about my job is the challenge of the task at hand,” Harwood says. Designing for space is “very complicated and is a very long process.”
And when she is able to make progress on creating items that help astronauts in space gather the kind of critical data that help us better understand the universe we live in, the time and work required to design them are both well worth it.
“Every day we get a little bit closer so that’s exciting,” she says.