Erin Winick is Putting the Art into Engineering
Spread the word: engineering is cool. That’s Erin Winick’s message to the world. She does it by highlighting the creative side of science and engineering and helping others who are doing the same to tell their stories.
Winick, a shy girl growing up in Tampa, Florida, married her high school sweetheart and went on to do communications for NASA, for which she received an award. She shares her journey through her public speaking at events worldwide, on TV programs and with 70K followers on social media.
The 29-year-old has launched two companies and has nine years of experience as a professional science communicator, writer and speaker. She is also ranked in the top 200 women pinball players in the world, after starting just a year ago in Houston, where she now lives.
Winick, who has a background in engineering, said that when growing up she wasn’t confident in what she wanted to do professionally, but she loved making things, such as Halloween costumes, lots of arts and crafts and building Rube Goldberg machines.
STEAM queen Erin Winick sporting a crown she designed in SOLIDWORKS and 3D printed.
“I was torn between going into journalism or engineering, which I know is a weird combo for a lot of people,” she says. “But I was editor in chief of my high school paper, and I loved that sort of thing. But also going back to that core of making stuff, I was really interested in exploring what that meant more professionally.”
Erin decided to go with engineering and got her Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida. She figured she could always go back to journalism if engineering didn’t pan out.
What did she see herself designing? She didn’t know. “In college, I was exploring that. I had a number of different engineering internships, and I was really interested in the manufacturing side of how things were created. I always loved that show How It’s Made,” said Winick.
Through her internships, she explored several types of engineering, including structural engineering at Bracken Engineering and tractor component design at John Deere, plus a number of others.
During college she also took up some writing gigs, which included writing engineering educational materials for kids. She started her own company Sci Chic to further educate people on the fashionable side of science by showcasing her 3D printed fashion designs and processes.
She later transitioned into more writing and media roles, such as a space reporter for the MIT Technology review focusing on space technologies. Her big break came when she got a job working in the space industry as a NASA contractor, where she was a science communications specialist at Johnson Space Center who communicated the research conducted aboard the space station.
Winick’s video on taste testing space food at NASA’s Space Food Systems lab went viral and has more than one million views.
Just this year she left NASA and took the leap into starting her own company called STEAM Power Media, a science communication company that creates STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) content and helps science and engineering companies share their creations with the public.
Winick is still a maker at heart, one who is always designing and making things and sharing them on social media, such as clothing and accessories.
What inspires her designs? Space and engineering. Since her time studying engineering and working at NASA, space and engineering have definitely influenced her work.
“Definitely space,” she says. “It’s where my brain is at a lot of the time, and I think there’s so much cool imagery in space. And then also I like coming back to just the engineering aspect of things, for the inspiration to show how you can bring the industrial side of things into fashion and show how that can be stylish.”
One of her designs that went viral is a parachute skirt inspired by the Mars Perseverance Landing. She has since sold hundreds of them on STARtorialist, a woman-owned small business that does space fashion, which she partnered with to produce and manufacture it.
A skirt inspired by the parachute design from the Mars Perseverance Landing designed by Erin’s husband.
Her power tools of choice? SOLIDWORKS, xDesign and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. She sticks mainly to Dassault Systèmes lineup of products since she used SOLIDWORKS in college. Cura is her go to prepare her models for 3D printing and then she has two Lulzbot 3D printers.
Screenshot of the crown she modeled in SOLIDWORKS.
What technology is she excited about? On the art side, she said it’s the intersection of 3D printing and fashion, especially printing flexible filaments on fabric or directly printed, like 3D printed laces. “There are some amazing creators on social media who are doing that. And I love seeing that, to showcase that art and engineering and where they can intersect,” says Winick.
On the more technical design side, she says, “I’m very interested to see where AI [artificial intelligence] and design intersect in the future. I think that’s probably not a surprising answer, but going to 3DEXPERIENCE World and seeing some of the things that they’re putting out there is really exciting to me, and I’m very interested in seeing how that continues to grow.”
What advice does she have for those on the fence about pursuing engineering?
Just go for it! It’s never too early to try out engineering or related things you like or might be interested in. Check out some CAD tutorials online, get your hands on local resources such as a 3D printer at a local library, or join a FIRST Robotics Club.
“There are so many ways that you can test out your interest and also start finding a community of other like-minded people who are also interested in that passion,” she says. “And I think that can be hard, especially for women in engineering who are in the minority, to find a community and supporters who can encourage you. I highly recommend you just start making stuff. It’ll build from there. Then just go for it! And if you don’t like it, don’t feel bad about moving out of it. But it’s a really great thing to try out.”
Engineering is Fun
Winick points to all the cool projects she gets to work on. Her mission as a STEM and STEAM advocate is to continue to show how creative you can be with science and engineering, which she said can often be perceived as very technical. But there’s a fun, creative side to it too.
“I think it’s really trying to bring that whole world together and that STEAM concept of science, technology, engineering, art and math. And so, when I’m making the content myself, it’s trying to showcase those really cool discoveries of points of fascination that are breakthroughs and that creative aspect of it.”
You too can be an influencer, says Winick. That is part of what Winick is doing at STEAM POWER Media: helping science and engineering companies to learn how to communicate what they do and tell their stories. She encourages people in the field to share, share, share and use social media platforms to not only create awareness about their company, but to help spread the word and encourage people to go into engineering. There is a workforce shortage, after all.
In a field where the workforce is primarily male, Winick is a prime example that women can do it, too. There are many awesome women in engineering that inspire her, she said. There are STEM influencers and great role models, including Emily Calandrelli who does cool science communication for kids in the space world. She recently got to fly in an F-18 with the Blue Angels and hosts Emily’s WonderLab on Netflix. Another is Alex Dainis, a science communicator with a PhD in genetics, who makes videos to make science accessible and engaging to broad audiences.
Shout Out to Space
Winick says that she’d like to thank space. She recently posted on her Instagram during space week, “It’s crazy to think about how much of an impact space has had on my life. From growing up in Florida seeing Space Shuttles lift off, to writing about space, it’s always been in my day-to-day experience. Without the space industry, I don’t know where I would be right now. So, thanks space! Can’t wait to see where humanity explores next in the cosmos.”
What’s next for Winick? Her journey has just begun. Her next adventure: she will soon set sail on the JOIDES Resolution ship as an outreach officer for two months.
We’re excited to see what the future holds for her, including what Halloween costumes she ends up making for herself and her husband. On the first of November, she’ll also unveil her latest project.