Ann Crews Melton
Cindy Auen

Sarah DePriest

Jennifer Kessler

Katrina Eberhart
For this "Be Smart" issue, Be Magazine sat down with four local women who are rocking their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

Cindy Auen

Cindy Auen has never shied away from challenges. A Dickinson native, she attended college at Dickinson State University and initially planned to continue on to veterinary school.

"I really didn't care for chemistry, but I'm the kind of person who gets the hard stuff done first and then has fun," Auen says. "By the time I was ready to graduate ... of course I had a chemistry degree."

After graduating Auen worked for Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories, a private lab in Bismarck. Soon after she was hired by the North Dakota Department of Health, where she worked in both organic and inorganic chemistry.

She left the workforce in 1990 to raise two children and didn't return for 16 years. While a stay-at-home mom, Auen taught herself to type and kept up with computer software through digital photography.

"I was told when I left that I would never get a job in chemistry again because technology was changing so fast," Auen says. "Not that theories changed, but when I came back there were many more compounds to test for, and the instrumentation was much more sophisticated."

After working briefly as a consultant, Auen was rehired by the N.D. Department of Health in 2006. She now serves as the state certification officer for environmental labs and works as a quality assurance and quality control coordinator, overseeing the quality of data produced.

Auen credits her mother, a nurse, with encouraging her interest in the sciences. Auen tried to instill the same sense of wonder in her children, who both entered STEM careers: her daughter is a radiologic technologist, and her son is an electrical engineer. "I know parents never like to hear 'why,' but I think everybody should say, 'Why? Why?,' until you can't answer anymore," Auen says. "Ask 'why' until you are satisfied with the answer. If you aren't satisfied, perhaps it is your calling to provide the answer."

Sarah DePriest
Integration architect

Growing up on a farm near Wimbledon, N.D., Sarah DePriest spent her childhood far removed from the tech industry.

"In high school, I just wanted a job I could make a good living at," DePriest says. "I knew I didn't want to live on a farm. It was always hard. Money was tight. I wanted to get into a field where I could make a decent living and not have the worries my parents had."

DePriest developed an interest in computers in high school, when her parents bought a Macintosh Performa to assist with farm bookkeeping.

"I really liked working on the computer, so I was more drawn toward technology," she says. "My mom really took to the computer, too. We worked together on the new computer when we got it, so I would say she's as much of a role model as anybody."

A track state champion in high school, DePriest was recruited by the University of Mary in Bismarck, where she majored in computer information systems. In 1999 DePriest was hired as an intern at Basin Electric Power Cooperative to assist with Y2K compatibility. She now works at Basin as a senior integration architect, moving data between systems.

As a woman in technology, DePriest says her experience has been overwhelmingly positive. "My thing was just find something you're good at," she says. "I found I was very good at the analysis, and I enjoyed that part. Helping people get their job done and help them make good decisions -- that's always a good feeling at the end."

Jennifer Kessler
Structural and fire protection engineer

As an only child in Maple Grove, Minn., Jennifer Kessler wanted to be a professional soccer player when she grew up.

"My dad was the one who turned me onto engineering," Kessler says. "I liked spending time with him in the garage fixing things. I was the one who was constantly building forts and skateboard ramps."

A soccer player through college, Kessler completed a bachelor's degree in civil engineering at South Dakota State University, where she went on to earn a master's degree in structural engineering.

"Right when starting my structural degree, Sept. 11 happened, and I got an interest in fire protection engineering," Kessler says, who completed a second master's degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

After working in the field, Kessler is now an assistant professor of engineering at Bismarck State College. She credits her support system, including her parents and friends, as helping her succeed.

"If you go into it with the mindset where (gender) is not an issue, it won't be," Kessler says. "Everybody gets to the point where they say, 'I can't do this!' and actually having somebody there to say, 'Yeah you can, because I went through the same thing,' helps," she says.

Katrina Eberhart
Mathematics educator

As a kid on a farm west of Strasburg, Katrina Eberhart set two goals for her future.

"There were two things I said I was never going to do: one was be a teacher, and the other was marry a farmer. I've managed to do both," Eberhart says, laughing.

Eberhart found her passion for teaching while a student at the University of North Dakota. Initially a geological engineering and mathematics double major, Eberhart gravitated toward math after encountering difficulties in a calculus class.

"When I went to UND I took Calc 1, and it's the first class I ever got a B in, so I looked at it as a challenge," Eberhart says. "I kept going in mathematics and I started tutoring and decided it was something I was good at, and that's how I ended up in education. Finding different ways to explain something to a student who wasn't sure what was going on was also a challenge to me."

Eberhart, who went on to complete a master's degree in mathematics, says she was not scared of math growing up.

"I don't ever remember thinking or even feeling like (math) was not something that a girl should be good at," she says. She credits her high school science and math teachers as inspiring her.

"My science teacher was a woman, and I remember taking my first semester of college chemistry thinking I didn't need to be in that class because I already knew it," Eberhart says. "Her style was sometimes frustrating to me, and now I end up using it. She would always answer your question with a question, so you had to think about what she just asked, but it was a directed question to help you arrive at the answer on your own."

Eberhart's advice for her math students at Bismarck State College? "Don't be intimidated," she says. And her students, crowding into her office for tutorials and advice, don't appear to be.