By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — Robin Thorne was always curious about how things worked and was drawn to making them more efficient.
“I always wanted to make things better,” she said. “I guess it was my natural curiosity.”
It’s no wonder that Thorne grew up to pursue a career as a chemical engineer. As one of the few females in a profession dominated by men, Thorne was startled by the statistic.
“In my first job out of college, I didn’t see any women engineers at all,” said Thorne, who grew up in Philadelphia.
“When I finished college, my company wanted engineers and chemists for a project on the West Coast and that is how I relocated to Los Angeles.
Though women represent half of the U.S. workforce (according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate), they only account for 27% of workers in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields and only 15% of engineers.
Thorne went on to establish CTI Environmental Inc., a multi-million dollar engineering and consulting company based in Long Beach, that she single-handedly built from the ground up. The company recently celebrated its 14th anniversary.
The company provides regulatory compliance, hazardous materials abatement, safety training and construction management.
But Thorne didn’t forget about the lack of women in her profession.
Aware that women — especially minority women — were few and far between in so-called STEM professions, Thorne founded DemoChicks, a nonprofit that provides scholarships, mentoring and workshops to young women at all levels of education to encourage interest in STEM fields.
She is committed to sharing her resources and experience through DemoChicks to empower women of all ages who may want to choose a similar path.
“We are empowering young women to pursue careers in the architecture, construction and engineering fields,” Thorne said.
“We reach out to existing groups, schools and mentoring programs,” said Thorne, who adds that in many cases, she is the first female engineer that young women have ever seen.
“My motto is if you can see it, you can be it,” she said.
“During COVID, we were strictly online. The online programming was for [kindergarten] through middle schools and our seminars were led by professionals in the industry.”
Thorne plans to reach out to more young people interested in the STEM professions.
“In less than two years, we have served 137 women and girls,” she said.
“There’s construction and manufacturing and other broadly engineering-based projects going on all around the country, so the opportunities are plentiful,” Thorne pointed added.
“We want to engage with the high school and college students and offer more mentoring and scholarships, specifically at Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College,” she said.
Asked what advice she would give a young woman interested in the STEM and engineering professions, Thorne said, “I would tell her to fall in love with math. Practice, practice and practice.”
“I often refer to myself as the chief Demo chick because my mission is to knock down barriers to build people’s hopes, dreams and passion,” she added.
To contact DemoChicks, visit the website DemoChicks.org.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.