Recently we interviewed a very bright engineering student Sydney Guillory, who works with UL Xplorlabs to promote STEM awareness in school students. Due to some audio issues, we were unable to release the episode, so we decided to release the transcript of our amazing conversation. Read on to learn more about Sydney’s incredible STEM story & to get INSPIRED!
Host: While most people leave Disney World dreaming of becoming a princess, Chicago native Sydney Guillory left with a different dream — to be an industrial engineer. Sydney saw all roller coasters and complex animatronics and she was determined to know how it all worked. As a senior industrial engineering student at the prestigious University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this goal has helped Sydney push through her college career and overcome the pressures of failing physics classes. Her passion for science led her to partner with UL Xplorlabs, an educational platform designed to encourage students to solve real-life problems through science. It also helps educate students — particularly women — about STEM careers.
Let’s talk to Sydney to find out how she’s using industrial engineering and her unique perspective to explore STEM.
Sydney: Hi Prasha.
Host: Thank you for joining us today.
Sydney: Thank you for having me.
Host: First of all, tell us what is UL Xplorlabs and then tell us how you got involved with it?
Sydney: So UL Xplorlabs is educational platform and we’re hoping that it encourages students to learn more about what they can do in science. So usually in classes, they tell you what it is, but not necessarily what you can do. And UL’s dedication to safety has led to us see we show students how they use science in their lives to solving problems, to be safer and to really get excited about all the possibilities that are out there.
Host: And how did you get involved with them?
Sydney: It’s funny, in my senior year in high school my friend sent me a contest that was put on by Marvel and Disney for the second Thor movie to get women involved in STEM. And my friends knew two things about me — really into superheroes and I was really into engineering. So I was never expecting to actually be selected for it — one of ten thousand girls in America.
Sydney: But it was… That was the last thing I was expecting to happen. But it did, and I missed a week of school. But in that week instead, we got to visit LA. We got to visit a lot of different locations and learn what kind of work they do. So we visited Dolby Laboratories as well as UL. And that’s how I got to meet UL and learn more about what they do and their dedication to keeping people safe. It’s through that connection that a couple years later, UL reached back out to me because I was in the area. It was like — hey we have something that we think you would be interested in. And I told them, absolutely.
Host: So a lot of people…probably don’t know what UL is, UL stands for “Underwriters Laboratories,” and they do safety testing, right Sydney?
Host: So they do a lot of safety testing with a lot of consumer electronics, consumer products and so most of their work is based on making products safe and ensuring that nobody gets harmed, gets hurt in the process of using them. It is a very prestigious safety regulatory company. How do you think young women and girls can find their passion while navigating through their careers?
Sydney: I think the first step is to realize what you love and then start to question why you love it, what you love about it. So for me growing up, I loved Disney World. I loved the enormity of amusement parks. What I really loved was the process. So I was fascinated with everything about not that it works, but how it works. How it does it work with people and by realizing that that’s what I liked about it, I started to be able to look exactly what I could do with it. It’s because something draws you to that and as long as you can harness that you will have a fulfilling career.
Host: That’s for sure and I think that in today’s time it’s very important to have clarity in such a crowded world. There are so many distractions.
Sydney: Yeah and especially because a lot of people.. You only really know what’s currently known. But that means you can be kind of be limited to what you think is the current status quo. And, nothing has ever been done until it has been done.
For example, one of my favorite stories is that I met a DJ who loved music growing up, always wanted to work with music. But, his parents really wanted him to find a career that he could actually make a living from. So he became a sound engineer and developed all of his own equipment.
Sydney: That’s like that’s the thing. People first will tell you — well you know you can’t make a living out of being a musician, you can’t do something with that. Your parents tell you that because they want the best for you. But sometimes when you really know you love something, you can create your own path. Don’t be afraid that’s it’s never been done before because nothing has been done before until it actually happens.
Host: Yes.That’s for sure. And again, as you said, especially in DJing or any of those careers, I mean everything is so intertwined with technology. There’s no getting out of it, entertainment, social media. No matter where you go. I’m not sure how you would actually skip technology. This definitely also ties back into following a STEM career in general, can really be helpful no matter what path you do want to take.
Sydney: Right. We get so comfortable with technology that we even forget it’s there. We start looking closely, we realize that everything is technology, everything is science. Artists paint with paints that were designed using chemistry.
Sydney: I mean baking’s also chemistry. There’s so much science, technology, math in the world and once you start looking for it, you’ll see it and realize how much is really out there.
Host: I think that’s a great thing that you guys are doing at UL Xplorlabs bridging that gap between textbooks and the real world, in showing the kids where things that they learn in the books are used or how that actually works into real life.
Sydney: Right. I think by doing more of this kind of helps you start to think about it. So for example, the first module is all about hover-boards and electric power and batteries. Because for a while hover-boards were very popular and then they started exploding. By having something that you recognize, tangible, but then talk about what goes into it, you start seeing more connections in the world around you.
Then you start to think — Wow, I love this. What can I do with it?
Host: I guess kids for sure, it probably gets them really excited as well because it’s not a toy anymore and it kind of starts making sense.
Host: I wish I had that when I was growing up. I only had big textbooks to read.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in your own STEM journey?
Sydney: For me definitely the biggest challenge has been confidence despite what I think about myself. So it’s funny, looking back I’d never been the best at anything. I had a lot of high-achieving friends. I was always close to the top, but I was never number one. I had to work really hard to not let that discourage me. Because it’s not about… A lot of people say that you should be an engineer because you’re good at math, because you’re good at science, but that’s not necessarily how that works out. If it was just because you’re good at science why couldn’t you just be a science major?
Sydney: I had to really know what my own value was and what I bring to the table. So maybe I’m not good at individual components, but I’m really good at thinking and seeing the bigger picture and figuring out how it’s supposed to work together.
Once I realized the value I had, it made it a lot easier to get through. Maybe, I didn’t do amazing in physics. Maybe I wasn’t amazing at chemistry, but I can be a great engineer because of these qualities and what I bring to the table.
Host: That’s kind of the essence of STEM as well. That it doesn’t have to do only with math or only with science. When you say it together then you have other skills that you can bring to the development of something that can then change a lot of peoples lives.
Sydney: Absolutely. They’re all integrated. You can’t have one without the other. For example, math’s at the basis of everything. But you don’t necessarily work with it in the same form.
Host: Same thing with science too as you said, right commodities around you, things around, food, I mean kitchen it’s the biggest chemistry lab in the world, it’s all chemistry that you use it every day in day out and don’t realize. And I think something to take away from that is that people or kids, especially girls if you are scared of maths like don’t let that bring you down or don’t let that discourage you from trying a STEM major or STEM coursework in school. Because not being good at math doesn’t define anything.
Sydney: Exactly. If you think about it when you’re a kid you’re like — wow, I’ll never get these timetables or learn how to multiply, but as an adult you know it’s not the end goal, that’s not how you’re using it, they’re just tools. So it’s not a matter of whether or not you’re great at it, is that do you have tools you need, and do you enjoy what you’re doing? Because I know people who are brilliant but when they don’t enjoy when they can’t motivate themselves it’s not worth it.
Host: And then if you find something interesting you kind of don’t need motivation, it’s self-propelling, so it gives you that energy to continue every day and be creative as well. I think if you’re not enjoying what you do you kind of lose creativity and then it becomes so mundane and that’s the cause of most misery in adulthood is that people are just not happy and they’re scared to accept it. So even with kids, if you enjoy something, try it a little bit more and maybe you’ll end up being like Sydney and doing some wonderful amazing things.
So what inspires you to make a difference Sydney?
Sydney: I feel like to me what inspires me the most is knowing what I can bring to other people. So sometimes, especially as a female in engineering, I’m the only one of the girls in most of my classes. But knowing that I make it easier for the next person really drives me and that’s not just academics but it’s also in other aspects of my life, knowing that I can help solve a problem, I can make someone’s life a little easier. Knowing that I am making way for others it’s like a win/win scenario, and it really helps me get up in the morning, go to class, go to my early morning meetings.
Host: That’s amazing and especially what you’re doing for women in STEM and women of color in STEM, it’s going to affect the coming generations, so definitely it’s really powerful work, you should be really proud of yourself.
Sydney: I’ve really been kind of a systems thinking, so thinking about the whole circle, because the part that your in is only a part of a bigger picture and it leads into something else. When you realize that it sets the foundation for others to come, it helps you build it a lot stronger.
Host: That’s so true. And I think that we miss that bigger picture and get too caught up in what we’re doing and we kind of miss the whole purpose and get worried and anxious and a lot of times we are too harsh on ourselves because we can’t see beyond what we’re doing right now. That’s why that kind of perspective definitely helps.
So talking about the bigger picture, any tips that you think can help push through academic struggles for anyone who is trying to achieve the bigger goals?
Sydney: I think the biggest thing is knowing what your goal is and knowing what you need to do. So for me as an industrial engineer, I want to stay more on the operations side of engineering and what got me through that was knowing how I could apply everything I’m learning to that.
So, for example, I’m not good at thermodynamics.
Host: Nobody is. [laughs]
Sydney: No-one is. Every time I talk about it everyone tells me no-one’s good at it.
Host: It’s a difficult subject. [laughs]
Sydney: Yeah. But knowing that as an industrial engineer who hopes to work in operations somewhere very far away from thermodynamics, I couldn’t think about putting it down because it wasn’t the angle it was just another obstacle.
So, knowing what your goal, like your angle is and realizing that these are checkpoints along the way, and some of them are here to test you, but the point is that you get through it. That’s what makes you resilient, that’s what makes you stronger.
But also… It’s also just talking to actual professionals who give you a little more perspective. When you’re at school, everyone’s going through the same situation, no one really what the real world is like. But as I said, when you talk to actual professionals, you realize that, no, really, everyone is not good at thermodynamics, it helps to really see how this fits into the bigger picture.
Host: Yes, yes, definitely. I mean in high school I was really troubled because I would let these things bother me because I didn’t have anyone to look up to or ask questions, because nobody in my family was an engineer, or we didn’t have programs like Xplorlabs or Skype a scientist or something like that. But I can see why that would be really helpful, to get over that stress. Because you’re more stressful when you’re younger, you overthink a lot.
You said — Be clear about what you want and get clarity on your goals. But do you have any tips or any suggestions for someone who’s struggling to find that clarity, and how do you think they can get it if they’re struggling to find that? Because not everyone has clarity.
Sydney: Right, and I still see that in some of my peers. I know someone who switched their major in their senior year because they realized that they’d be doing EC for the rest of their life.
But I think the important thing is to figure out what you like and if you can’t necessarily say that, then figure out everything you don’t like. And figure out why you don’t like it– then why is kind of glossed over a lot. Because a lot of times you just stop at the surface level. So you say “I like sports,” or “I like basketball,” but then you realize why it is “I like competition,” or “I like an accomplishment,” or “I like setting new goals for myself and competing.” Remeber that there’s never really a surface level reason. There’s always something beneath.
So growing up I actually was on the Internet a lot. And my parents are educators, they had no one in my family who was an engineer. So I Googled a lot about what do engineers do? What do industrial engineers do? What does a mechanical engineer do? For a long time, I didn’t know I wanted to be an industrial engineer. But I knew about all the other types of engineer I definitely did not want to be. I knew definitely not mechanical, definitely not chemical. And narrowing down what didn’t work for me for those what exactly about those things didn’t work helped me. When I thought about engineering, realize all the reasons why. Suggest exposure, figuring out why you like things, why you don’t like things and keep looking for new possibilities.
So if you think “I really like sports. I really like this aspect of it,” think about why. Also look into what you can do about it. There’s a lot of things. I have a friend who is going into sports but also studying Bio. So they’re also looking a lot into sports-related injuries. They’re looking a lot into sports injuries. And so connecting the dots about yourself, about what do I love, why do I love it and what can I do about it?
Host: Yes, you put it really, really nice and I think I learned a lot from that answer. I started thinking — Why do I like podcasting? I don’t know. Am I really good at it? I don’t know. But that’s a definitely great way to say that you necessarily don’t need to know what you really like. But if you start with the method of elimination, so you start saying — this is not what I like. Then you can find something that finally makes sense. And it’s a journey, so you’ll never be… Life is going to be up and down and round and round. But it’s a journey so to accept that you always have to grow, you always have to learn. As they say, success is not a destination, it’s a journey. So you got to make sure that you enjoy that as well and enjoy it, not just wait for something to make you feel better that, yeah if I had that degree I’d be really happy. You know.
Notice the things aren’t working out and work on changing them. Because if the person I spoke to, if they thought because I’m almost done with this degree, I have to go through with it, they went through with it, but they are miserable. So you have been honest about how am I feeling right now, why do I feel this way is this really what I want to do? Because sometimes we’re so scared of change that there’s no time left, that there’s no chance left. But there’s always another chance there’s always time left, you just have to make that decision.
Host: Yes, yes definitely.
So how can our listeners get involved with your work in UL Xplorlabs?
Sydney: So with UL Xplorlabs, listeners can get involved by actually going to our website ulxplorlabs.org and trying out some of the modules. But also sharing it with a middle school student, homeschool student, and high school student that we love. Just by sharing it with other people and getting the word out and getting more people involved in it definitely helps. And not only for Xplorlabs, but also helping students in your life discover something new about the world around them.
Host: That’s awesome, so we’ll share the links in our episode notes, for everyone who is interested in going to the website, it’s Xplorlabs with an “X” and there is no “e” in it. So I will share the links in the show notes.
To wrap this up we are going to do a quick rapid fire and find out a little more about you.
So, what’s your favorite book?
Sydney: Miss Marvel volume 1, it’s a comic book.
Host: Why do you like it?
Sydney: Oh my god, so Miss Marvel… The new Miss Marvel who is a student in New Jersey, and what I really like about it is that as much as I like superheroes in comic books they’re not really diverse. And she is wonderful as a character, who is really developed, and she is really relatable and I love seeing someone I actually identify with on the page and doing amazing things.
Host: Yes. Yes. Definitely.
That’s awesome.A cause that’s close to your heart?
Sydney: Getting resources to schools that really need them. I went to a private school, so I was always… I always had a plethora of resources. I went to a fine arts performing elementary school. But, because my parents were educators, I realized how many schools were missing out. How many students are missing opportunities — because they don’t have the resources they need.
So it’s really hard to get interested in STEM when your science textbooks are incredibly outdated when you don’t have access to the technology to actually do your homework.
Host: Yes. And it can be life changing if we had basic resources at everyone’s fingertips or everyone’s classrooms. That would fill the gap by itself, between the jobs that are available versus people who are actually available for those jobs, especially in the United States. If we had equality of education and equal education that would kind of help solve the problem too.
Your favorite quote?
Sydney: This one was actually told by a recent friend “Don’t wait until you are ready — Sometimes you have to start before you are ready”.
I often find myself wait until I’m ready, until I’ve done all my preparations, or I’ve done my research. But then I realize how often I don’t ever start because I always feel like I’m not ready yet. Sometimes you can’t wait — to get ready, until you actually do it — experience is how you get better at it. You’ll never be perfect until you try!
Host: I love that one. I live by that quote. That is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m not trained in this. I said I’m just going to hit record. We’ll see how it goes. So that’s exactly how I live my life because I waited a long time thinking that there will be a right time, something will work out and I finally found out I just have to do it. That’s the only way to learn — yes, there will never be a right time. The right time is when you take that action, the first action; that’s the only time which matters.
Thank you so much for your valuable time Sydney. It was such a pleasure to have you on the show and thank you for sharing your incredible STEM story with us. We really wish you good luck with your school and all your upcoming projects and your work with UL Xplorlabs.
Sydney: Thank you for having me Prasha. I’m really glad I got to share everything. I love giving back to others, so this was a really good opportunity for me.
Host: Of course, it was a pleasure to talk to you about so many interesting things!
That was Sydney Guillory with her story. You can learn more about her and UL Xlplorlabs by visiting the links below: