Kaliah Linear's grandfather believed she could do anything she set her mind to, even if it was something others thought only boys could or should do.
"He would fix everything in and around our house," Linear said. "He taught me how to fix car engines and household appliances. In his eyes, I was just as capable as anyone else."
Linear, a freshman studying mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois-Chicago, is the first generation of her family to attend college. She grew up in a busy house and often kept herself occupied reading science, technology, engineering and math books.
"In elementary school, I drew a picture of myself as a scientist and put it in a time capsule that we recently opened. I wrote, 'When I grow up, I want to be a scientist.'" But it wasn't that way everywhere.
"In high school, I noticed it was the boys who were encouraged to do the fun things like light the Bunsen burners or program the robots," Linear said. "I was often given the 'It's because you're a girl' excuse, as if I shouldn't get my hands dirty. It was easy to start feeling STEM wasn't for me." Until Abbott.
That's where, the summer after her junior year in high school, she joined the high school STEM internship program. She worked that summer on cardiovascular technologies and this past summer in Abbott's structural heart division.
"In school, I was the only girl in my auto shop class," she said. "It felt intimidating, like I was competing. Especially because I was the only woman. I never felt support or encouragement from my teachers to keep going, but it’s different at Abbott. Here, there are lots of women in STEM and they’re encouraged to stay in STEM. I feel like I’m family, that I’m welcome."
She says learning technical skills during her internship, like data analysis and project management, are valuable for her future.
"I've had the privilege to learn by doing, which most students don't get the chance to do at my age," Linear says. "The hands-on experience Abbott has given me are preparing me by giving me insight as to what an engineer may do in a regular day."
As accomplished as Linear is, she is equally passionate about helping other girls jumpstart their STEM careers. She was her high school's Women in STEM club president and is a mentor for students at her former elementary school. She also founded Young Ladies in Action, a local group that helps girls explore STEM in fun, hands-on ways.
Together, they have done everything from designing boards to building forts.
"I run it myself and we do experiments," she said. "I love seeing the confidence in the girls after we're done with a project. I remember saying to them, 'This is science, so if you can do this, you can do science.' It was awesome seeing their faces light up. One girl said she wanted to be an inventor, one wanted to be a scientist."
As for what advice she'd give to them and any other young person curious about STEM, Kaliah said:
"Think about what you're interested in, what you like to do, and what you’re willing to learn more about. Ask yourself, 'What am I willing to do for the rest of my life?' The cool thing about STEM is that there are infinite possibilities and it’s constantly changing."