Finding the Connection: The Explorers
For students at Emma Willard School, it’s always been easy to look to graduates for inspiration. The rapid and revolutionary changes in global society and educational methodologies over the last century, though, sometimes make it difficult for alumnae to see their experiences reflected in the lives of today’s students. This series of stories (originally printed in the Spring 2022 edition of Signature magazine) highlights pairs who found the connection.
THE EXPLORERS: HANNAH BOWER ’10 & DAPHINE K. ’23
Hannah always saw Emma Willard as being an extension of home. Her grandparents owned the house across the street, her mom and aunt are alumnae, and she attended the children’s school.
Now a combustion engineer at the GE Global Research Center, Hannah works on innovative, interdisciplinary technologies for the aviation and power industries. That’s not where she started, though. She earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry.
“I interned at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in high school and NASA during my bachelors degree,” Hannah explains. “At NASA, I was doing a lot of science but working with the engineers. I knew what science we wanted to do, but I couldn’t build the instrument—I wanted to bridge that gap, and vice versa.”
She credits Emma Willard with providing the toolbox to make that vision a reality. “The teachers are very interested in the subjects they teach and that spills over to the students and gets them engaged,” she says. “I have the ability to take on new challenges with confidence and tenacity. I have the mindset that I can switch majors and careers and do anything I want to do. Because,
why couldn’t I?”
Hannah uses chemistry in her work every day, but she uses it in engineering applications. A discussion with her mentor at NASA led her to shift her focus from chemistry in college to propulsion in graduate school at the University of California at Irvine. She took another leap in joining GE.
“In academia, it’s about why and how the science happens. In the corporate world, we make products, so we need to know that the science happens,” she says. “There’s not just one path to using the different types of engineering and science. I wish I’d had more exposure to those different opportunities earlier.”
That’s why Hannah remains deeply involved in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) mentoring with Emma Willard students, even as she continues to seek out her own opportunities for professional growth and leadership. In particular, she’s drawn toward developing her business strategy skills and “trying to position myself to be able to take on anything that interests me.”
“Every time I go to Emma Willard, I try to tell the students that employers are looking for thought diversity. NASA takes people from MIT, Stanford, the University of Maryland, small liberal arts colleges—you name it. It’s how well the program matches your goals that matters,” Hannah explains. “Emma students have a vision, but they need to take the name out and look at the programs, the professors, and the opportunities instead. Your path will be different from what you think—and it will be okay.”
Daphine is getting that message loud and clear. She describes Hannah, who is acting as her mentor, as “literally the best person. She’s exposed me to all types of career paths and engineering that I didn’t know. I’m getting a better sense of myself by hearing about everything and the way she jokes about her experiences and internships.”
As a primary school student in her native Uganda, Daphine developed a love of science through the “weird and fun” experiments her teacher conducted in class. She was introduced to Emma Willard by an alumna who is friends with her mom. She found the sense of community and traditions a perfect fit, although she still gets overwhelmed by choices and opportunities.
Science Instructor Jon Calos helped her arrange her Signature project interning at RPI, where she is helping design experiments.
“I was so scared by all the technical journals,” Daphine says. “Now I’m learning to ask questions. I’m listening to others’ experiences and deciding if I want to do something. I’m doing what I like and gaining more skills that I can use in pursuing a career later.”
As a track and field athlete who favors the high jump, Daphine finds sports to be a release from the rigors of her studies. She also enjoys spending time with her friends, who have provided a sounding board as she’s contemplated her path forward.
“It’s hard to dream about what I want to do in the future,” she says. “Maybe chemical engineering, where I can apply what I’m doing right now. Maybe medicine—which is still STEM, but I’d get to work with more people directly.”
She still has time to consider her options. Over the summer, she may apply for a NASA internship and stay in the US—or she may return to Uganda for a second opportunity to work in reception in a hospital near her home.
“In Uganda, high school students help out at home or relax on breaks. It’s a new experience for them to get summer jobs,” she says. “My parents are so surprised. I’m doing hands-on things that are not common for a high schooler from Uganda to do. I think they are so happy that I have these skills and connections, and they are really proud of my mentorship.”