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Drivers of Innovation: Always Pursue Your Passions

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we spoke with UL’s Karen Dubiel. Learn why she feels encouraging people to pursue their passions is the key to getting more girls and women involved in STEM.

Closeup photo of UL employee Karen Dubiel in blue shirt.

March 29, 2022

What began in 1981 as a week dedicated to celebrating women’s contributions to the United States (U.S.) is now Women’s History Month. Celebrated annually in March, it’s a time to observe and recognize the vital role women have played in the country’s history.

At UL, we are proud of women's many achievements throughout history. We are also proud to work alongside many accomplished women at UL’s campuses worldwide. To celebrate Women’s History Month, we interviewed a few of our talented employees about their contributions to UL and how we can encourage future generations of women.

Karen Dubiel, a technical training manager in Customer Experience at UL’s Northbook campus, discusses how she became interested in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career, what led her to UL and how we can get students involved in STEM in the future.

What brought you to UL?

My path was a little indirect, as I originally planned to become a teacher. I got married not long after graduating from Central Michigan University with my bachelor’s degree in math and a minor in chemistry. My husband and I moved to the Chicago area as he had been hired by UL the previous year.

I worked as a substitute teacher for a while, and then my husband told me that UL was hiring. I applied and started working as an engineering assistant, writing reports and whatnot. I was excited about the position and working for UL. I had a science background, and I could also see potential teaching opportunities, just in a different capacity.

After I started working here, I liked the work and the mission at UL. I decided to stay permanently. I attended night school and earned my master’s degree in mechanical engineering with a materials specialty, which UL financially subsidized while I continued working full time. I moved into an engineering track, which opened more opportunities for me.

When did you realize you were interested in STEM topics? What were your specific interests and aptitudes?

I always did well with math, even in my head. I’ve always liked science and have been curious about how things work. I’ve never been afraid to dig into a problem to figure it out. But my interest really picked up in middle school.

Math and science classes really held my interest, but I’ve always been drawn more to science. I’m also a very detail-oriented person, so the process of experiments and finding solutions was very interesting. I enjoy the sequential nature of the things we do within STEM. I really enjoyed chemistry. I also liked advanced biology, dissecting and seeing how everything works together.

Who was your most significant influence in pursuing a STEM education and career?

My high school chemistry and advanced biology teacher really helped me set my course. He was very encouraging and provided a lot of opportunities for exploration. We had a lot of open discussions and experimentation in class. He was very encouraging when we talked. He provided me with a lot of support and information on the benefits of pursuing STEM, and that had a big impact on me.

I also have always admired Marie Curie. It’s not just that her scientific work was so significant but also that she did what she wanted to do. She made a name for herself in science at a time when that was not an accepted role for women. At the same time, Madame Curie didn’t make a big deal about what she was doing. She just did it and encouraged her daughters to do the same. She felt education was important and made sure all of her children received an education. I respect so much of what she did and how she did it.

How can we encourage more girls and women to pursue STEM education and careers?

I think the most important thing to do is to keep talking with them. We need to have discussions that are not necessarily focused on STEM but encourage them to pursue what interests them. I have two nieces and a goddaughter in their teens and early 20s. I want them to find what they are passionate about and pursue it.

I know it’s hard, especially for teens, to do something that their friends and classmates may not be interested in. We need to let them know that there are people out there, other women, who have done this. Know who you are and be that person. It’s also OK to go into a field that is traditionally male-dominated.

We need more opportunities for girls to experiment in all the things that STEM can be. It’s not just engineering, and more people need to know that.

I’d encourage young people to find a place they can do what they are passionate about and to explore those topics. Look into clubs, volunteering and classes in what you enjoy.

Have you seen changes in how girls and women are treated regarding STEM topics in school and the work force?

When I was in college, certain professors made it clear they didn’t think women should be in their classes. I took that as a personal challenge to prove them wrong.

Unfortunately, there will always be individuals with that type of opinion. However, universities and employers are now doing more to do away with that kind of negative thinking. There is considerably more effort to get girls and women involved in STEM fields.

Within the professional world, I think it still depends on the employer. Some companies and industries are quite proactive about having women in their work force. Others may still have the old, male-dominated culture embedded throughout the company.

I feel that UL as a company is intentional about considering women for positions and in offering growth opportunities. I’ve worked here since 1990, and there is more of a conscious effort to provide growth opportunities to women. It has certainly balanced out over time.

I am happy to hear that there are now more opportunities and clubs to help get young women involved in STEM. There’s more effort at earlier levels to encourage kids to explore and pursue their interests.

We’re celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March at UL. Please check back for more feature stories about the talented women who work at UL.