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Women Making a Difference: Shawn Simmons fulfills dream of becoming engineer

HOUSTON – Shawn Simmons is used to catching people off-guard.

"There are not a lot of female minorities in the field, which is something that we're trying to change. And with a name like Shawn Simmons, a lot of times when I come into a room, it's not what they're expecting," she said.

Simmons has spent more than 15 years working for ExxonMobil, and currently holds a position as the company’s environmental and permitting manager for Gulf Coast Growth Ventures.

Simmons is the daughter of a math teacher and oilfield worker who both encouraged her to work toward her goals, and she knew early on exactly what she wanted to become.

"It was actually my eighth grade science teacher in middle school. She encouraged us to explore things and talked to us a little about what engineering was,” Simmons said.

And she got started right away. Simmons graduated from Booker T. Washington’s High School for the Engineering Professions and launched into college, and ultimately a career in engineering.

But beyond her day job, Simmons spends much of her time recruiting young girls to follow in her footsteps.

She participated in a recent event called “Engineers for a Day,” where she and other female scientists met with young girls from Conroe, Magnolia and Spring independent school district middle schools.

Simmons stood at the front of the room of 175 students, holding  and literally cheering girls on to get excited about STEM (science, technology, math? and engineering).

"We see doctors and layers and entertainers and sports figures on TV, and all those are great. But a lot of our kids don't know about other opportunities like engineering," she said.

Simmons is well aware of the lack of female representation in her field.

A 2014-2016 study by Pew Research Center showed fewer than one in 10 women hold engineering jobs, something Simmons is actively trying to change.

"If they can see themselves in me and all the other female engineers that they're gonna see today -- they know it's possible. And the possibility is what really makes it worthwhile," she said.

To keep up with Simmons, follow her on Twitter.