Powerful messages fuel Kassalen’s keynote speech
Only a few months removed from participating in the round-the-world trip of Solar Impulse – the first solar-powered flight to circle the globe – Paige Kassalen shared those experiences with the 1,100 high school students that participated in the Covestro Pittsburgh Regional Science & Engineering Fair.
The fair featured the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians presenting research projects that they conducted over the past several weeks and months in hope of being honored at the awards ceremony that took place April 1 at Heinz Field.
Kassalen, who graduated from Mt. Lebanon in 2011 and is now a market analyst for the future of mobility at Covestro, was selected to give the keynote speech to those who were in her shoes a mere six years ago.
“That is my favorite type of audience to talk to because I was only a senior in high school six years ago,” Kassalen said. “It was a really cool experience to see so many young students that are passionate about science and engineering. Even though I’m only six years removed from high school, things have dramatically increased with pushing more people into STEM-related fields.”
After sharing her experiences of steering the tail of the 236-foot wide, 5,000 pound plane as it taxied onto runways, both as the youngest person and lone American woman on the international group, it came with two messages Kassalen wanted those in attendance to take away.
The one message Kassalen told the crowd was that questioning yourself is not only normal but good.
“Engineering is a lot different of an experience for the millennials,” the Virginia Tech graduate said. “Would I ever be able to figure out my solution? Going through my degree I questioned myself and lacked confidence. In the end we are not going to know everything.”
Another hurdle Kassalen explained was not allowing others to limit expectations, especially as one of the few females in a male-dominated field.
“You define your own path,” she proudly said. “We all have these different dimensions of our personality and it’s hard to stay true to all of those. I wanted to make sure I was being real. I really had to work in college to keep those aspects of my personality.”
Covestro, formerly the materials science division of Bayer, separated in September 2015 to become its own independent company. The company works with the Carnegie Science Center and has naming rights to the fair, which occurred the first weekend of April.
Kassalen was chosen to give the keynote speech after representatives from the science center were told she had been involved with Covestro since interviewing during her senior year of college and since being employed with the company.
“I was excited when I found out,” Kassalen remembers. “I think that every single person can be scared in that situation no matter who they are or what they accomplished. The thing that would keep me up at night or make me nervous was the fact that I know the story can be told well and have an impact on these lives. I think programs like this are a great foundation of showing students what they can do and how they can achieve anything. For the ones who weren’t able to participate, for whatever reason, it’s never too late to start building that foundation.”