Blogs  |  1.3.2022

Alumni Spotlight: Erin Burba

Name: Erin Burba

Current Occupation and Employer: Embedded Engineer, Impact Biosystems

Education: B.S. Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Northeastern University

Which of our Challenger Learning Centers did you visit?

I visited the Challenger Learning Centers in Radcliffe and Paducah, KY.

When did you visit a Challenger Learning Center? 

4th and 5th grade on field trips, and I volunteered as a day camp counselor in high school.

What do you remember most from your experience?

I got the navigator role on the Center Mission, and I think that was the first time it felt cool to do math.

Have you always been interested in STEM?

Always, yes. As a kid I desperately wanted to know the full story of how and why things worked, and STEM helped me connect the dots.

Did the visit to the Challenger Learning Center affect your decision to pursue a STEM degree or career? 

I think I grew up with a healthy encouragement to pursue STEM, but for the longest time I couldn’t clearly picture myself in the field. The Challenger Learning Center helped make a STEM career an actionable plan. An astronaut or engineer or scientist wasn’t an intangible dream or movie character; it was a person who used skills X, Y, and Z. The Challenger Learning Center even hosted an event where I got to meet an astronaut and ask him about his career. Making those connections in my mind helped with plotting a path forward.

Do you use STEM lessons/principles in your job every day? If so, how?

I use a lot of math and technology in my role as a firmware engineer. Firmware is the software that runs on embedded devices. Memory and processing power are very limited on the microcontrollers I write code for, so there are additional considerations in the design of my software solutions. The best example would be that I think a lot about data storage and representation, because at this scale it matters a lot if a number uses four bytes versus two or one, or if I can offload data via Bluetooth just 512 bytes at a time versus a few thousand. I also like that my job involves collaboration with other specialties, like in discussing circuit board designs and providing data for internal studies.

Why is STEM education so critical at a young age?

I think kids deserve a lot of credit in their ability to question and investigate and imagine. STEM gives them the tools to act on their curiosity, make discoveries, and think critically.

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue STEM degrees or careers?

Take as many intro classes as you can. Find what makes your brain fizzle. Big problems need input from so many angles, and whatever skills you can bring to the table will be essential.

In one sentence, how would you describe your Challenger Learning Center experience?

Best field trip, ever.

Why should people support Challenger Learning Center’s STEM programs?

Early STEM education should be inspiring. Anything that accomplishes that as well as Challenger Center should get to reach as many kids as possible.