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Woods Hole underwater robotics engineer inspiring next Black female scientists

Woods Hole underwater robotics engineer inspiring next black female scientists
Woods Hole underwater robotics engineer inspiring next black female scientists 02:49

WOODS HOLE -- Robotics engineer Gwyneth Packard, who works at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, programs autonomous vehicles that travel underwater and collect data. 

"There is no joystick. We give them all the energy, all the instruction, and send them out to do their thing, and hope that they come back," says Packard.

Most days she's in the office writing code, but there are some occasions when workdays are on the water. That is when she gets to test her skills.  

"[It's] exhilarating," Packard expresses when she gets out on the boat. "Now there is a lot of teamwork on those and that feels really good. Those are the days you're not just working with software folks in the corner over here, but with mechanical engineers, assistant engineers, the operators, the electrical engineers. Everybody together, making the project come together on the water, those are good days."

Her work will help map the unseen world, something she never imagined doing. 

"The tools I use now weren't even invented when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up," Packard said. 

She grew up in landlocked Iowa, but visited the coast as a child. Those memories, combined with a passion for math and science at a young age, landed her at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

While studying oceanography for ten years on Cape Cod, her career path changed. 

"As I was programming tools to analyze our physical oceanography data, I got interested in computer science. So one thing I tell people now coming up, be willing to pivot," Packard said.

In her third career, she also advises to be stay curious and don't give up if it gets difficult.  

"You'll hear people talk sometimes, 'Oh, but math is hard for me.' Well, math is hard for me too. But I love it. And having it be hard  doesn't mean you're not good at it. And a lot of the really fun stuff is hard and it's worthwhile." 

She shares that passion and love with others around her, including the younger generation of young Black women.

"I work with the Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium, and I just started working with Black Girls Dive. So, I do feel like it is super important to network, to be able to find each other, because there are so few of us."

"When you look at the amount of individuals that are black that don't know how to swim, it's concerning because I look at swimming as a life skill," said Dr. Nevada Winrow, the CEO and Founder of Black Girls Dive Foundation. "It's a safety issue."

The non-profit integrates STEM education with scuba diving for young black girls. 

"So it was just providing a space and opportunity for young ladies to explore what's involved in marine science, as well as get them in space where they are comfortable in water. They are exploring the marine ecosystem, which they love."

The foundation has provided over 200 STEM classes and led Scuba expeditions to Key Largo, Florida, Egypt, and and Bahamas. They just added Packard. as an advisory board member. 

"Having her area of expertise is certainly going to take the program to another level," Dr. Winrow said.

To learn more about the Black Girls Dive Foundation, click here.

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