How Gwyneth Packard & Underwater Robotics Engineering Are Firing Up Young Black Female Scientists

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Black Girl METAS

Gwyneth Packard, a robotics engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, develops autonomous underwater vehicles for data collection.

"The joystick is absent. We provide them with all of the resources and guidance before sending them forth to complete their tasks in the hopes that they will return, "asserts Packard.

She spends the majority of her time at her desk creating code, but occasionally she spends her workdays on a boat. She gets to put her abilities to the test then.

When Packard steps out onto the boat, she says, "[It's] exhilarating. There is now a lot of teamwork going on there, and it feels great. On those days, you won't only be collaborating with the software developers in this corner; you'll also be collaborating with mechanical engineers, assistant engineers, operators, and electrical engineers. Those are good days when everyone is working together to complete the project on the water."

She never expected that her work would aid in mapping the invisible realm.

Packard stated, "When I was trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, the tools I use now weren't even invented.”

Despite being a landlocked Iowan, she traveled to the coast as a child. She ended up at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution thanks to those memories and an early enthusiasm for math and science.

Her profession shifted after ten years of Cape Cod research in oceanography.

"I became interested in computer science when I created tools to examine our physical oceanographic data. In light of this, I advise those who are just starting out to remain flexible," added Packard.

She also offers advice for anyone pursuing a third job to be curious and persevere in the face of challenges.

"Sometimes you'll hear someone say, ‘Oh, but math is hard for me.’ Well, I struggle with it, too. Yet I adore it. It's also not a sign that you're not competent if it's challenging. And a lot of the really enjoyable activities are challenging but worthy."

She shares her enthusiasm and affection with others around her, especially the younger Black ladies.

"I recently started working with Black Girls Dive in addition to my work with the Maria Mitchell Women of Science Symposium. Because there are so few of us, I do believe that networking is crucial in order to be able to locate one another."

Black Girls Dive Foundation CEO and Founder Dr. Nevada Winrow said, "When you look at the number of people who are Black who don't know how to swim, it's troubling because I look at swimming as a life skill. It's a safety concern.”

The nonprofit combines scuba diving instruction with STEM education for young Black females.

"Therefore, it was just about giving young women a place and a chance to learn more about marine science while also getting them accustomed to being in the water. They are investigating the sea ecosystem because they enjoy it."

The charity has run Scuba adventures to Key Largo, Florida, Egypt, and the Bahamas in addition to more than 200 STEM classes. Packard has recently joined the advisory board.

“The initiative will undoubtedly advance now that she is involved,” said Dr. Winrow.


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