Deb Hall

A Professor Helps Engineer the Future for Women in STEM

//BY CAROL STINNETT

When your career and passion intersect, you’ve found the perfect algorithm. For Deb Hall, Ed.D., an Electronics Engineering Technology professor at Valencia College, her love of engineering started at a young age. It was her father, an electrical engineer, who had a large influence on her interest in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math, she says.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Central Florida, Hall earned a fellowship, funded by Walt Disney® Design and Engineering, that provided a way to complete her master’s program. While attending a national conference early on in grad school, she met a researcher whose work focused on increasing access to solar power in developing countries. Reflecting back on the conversation, Hall says it fueled her motivation throughout school and inspired her to think globally.

Upon completing her master’s, she accepted a position as an electrical vehicle battery test engineer with a company based in France. The job required frequent domestic and international travel to train clients on electrical vehicle batteries, and it was a great opportunity to meet new people, she reminisces.

“Within the company, men were the engineers and women were at the technician level,” Hall describes. “I was a real wild card—an American woman in an engineering role. At times, I felt the pressure of having to excel. But regardless of what self-imposed pressure I may have felt, I never lost sight of who I was—a woman and an engineer who was up for any challenge.”

 

Some years later, she would move to Central Florida to be closer to her parents and start a job as a ride and show control engineer. To Hall, the best part of the job was going out to a project installation and working hands-on with clients. But as local projects wrapped up, the company headed abroad for new work. Longing to spend more time with her family and travel less, she began looking for new opportunities.

A friend, and humanities professor at the college, told her about a faculty opening at the college and she decided to apply. So, in January 2001, Hall walked into her first class and has been teaching ever since. As a professor, every semester is different, she says. “I enjoy meeting new students, especially seeing the lightbulbs go off when something ‘clicks’ and they seem to catch the enthusiasm I have for the field.”

I enjoy meeting new students, especially seeing the lightbulbs go off when something ‘clicks’ and they seem to catch the enthusiasm I have for the field.”

Hall explains STEM through hands-on activities with fourth graders from the Academic Center for Excellence.

Hall explains STEM through hands-on activities with fourth graders from the Academic Center for Excellence.

Most recently, Hall’s been working with a team to launch a new Associate in Science degree program in fall 2018: Energy Management and Controls Technology. The first-of-its-type degree program in Florida will prepare students for careers in the building automation systems direct digital controls industry. “Graduates will be multi-faceted technicians,” she explains. “In order to pull back the veil on energy inefficient commercial buildings, students must be able to identify the energy vampires throughout the building—the pieces of equipment and/or processes that consume large amounts of energy. To do this, they’ll learn mechanical systems, electrical systems, computer programming and networking security…real super techs who will significantly better our planet.”

Beyond her role at the college, Hall is also actively engaged in professional organizations and STEM outreach efforts in the K-12 environment. One of her most notable community efforts has been the solar suitcase project. Local fourth- and fifth-graders worked with Valencia College engineering students to make suitcases that contained solar panels capable of generating electricity. Afterward, the suitcases were sent to developing nations without power.

Deb Hall

Hall and several of her engineering students do hands-on STEM activities with local elementary school students.

The project gave students a first-hand look at the benefits of renewable energy and showed them how fascinating science can be. By exposing students to the “coolness” of STEM, Hall hopes to inspire more young learners—especially girls—to check out technical careers. “Instead of just Bill Nye, the science guy, let’s also have a Pearl, the science girl,” she laughs.

Deb’s original idea of Pearl

An advocate of women in technical fields, Hall strives to be a positive role model for young girls and uses her own career to reinforce how women can lead the future of STEM. “I want them to know that they can apply their interests and creativity within the field of engineering and technology—they can make a positive difference in the world that will directly impact the betterment of humanity.” Now that’s a winning formula!