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Nolita Lewis Teaches Girls to Soar Using STEM Skills

August 03, 2023 | by Mary Dudy
As a little girl, Nolita Lewis would often gaze upward from her home near the Atlanta airport and ponder the mystery of what keeps planes in the sky. She had no way of knowing that one day she’d be one of the people engaged in the crucial work of keeping those engines in flight.

Lewis’s journey to becoming an engineer at GE Aerospace was complicated by multiple factors. She was the first in her family to go to college, the first to become an engineer, and the first to work in corporate America. “If you had asked me in high school what an engineer does, much less if there are female engineers, I wouldn’t have known what to say,” she says. “I didn’t even know that GE made engines.”

Though she excelled academically, she had to go outside of her family to obtain the kind of practical information she’d never been taught. Two mentors in particular, a high school teacher and one of her mother’s employers, helped her navigate the unfamiliar terrain of choosing a field of study and applying to college. “I didn’t struggle in high school or college at all,” she says. “But I wish I had been exposed to the crucial information about the non-academic elements of the process much earlier in life.”

Now, one of Lewis’s central motivators is sharing with girls what she’s learned as an engineer and a woman of color. “I started volunteering with GE from almost the moment I started working for them in 2003,” she says. “This company’s passion for community involvement is one of the reasons I joke that I’m never leaving. This was my first job out of college, and they’re going to have to drag me out of here!”

Images courtesy of Nolita Lewis.

Over the past 20 years, Lewis has logged hundreds of hours in Cincinnati-area schools, serving as a student math tutor and a STEM mentor for the Girl Scouts through the tutoring program at Lincoln Heights Elementary School. She also works with older students at Aiken High School and volunteers her time and expertise for Next Engineers, a college and career readiness program launched in 2021 through the GE Foundation to increase diversity in engineering.

Next Engineers dovetails with GE Girls, a program that teaches girls about STEM and STEM-based careers. In partnership with the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio (GSWO), GE Aerospace runs evening STEM sessions at its Learning Center on the headquarters campus in Evendale, Ohio. “We facilitate hands-on exercises that the girls get to work through with engineers,” says Lewis. The key is to get the girls to learn while having fun; one such activity involves building toy cars. “Their cars have to move, so we get to teach them about the laws of motion,” she adds.

These same activities are replicated on Saturdays at local rec centers for kids who can’t make it to the GE Aerospace site. “We do events for entire families so that parents can be involved,” she says.

Though roughly 90% of Lewis’s volunteer work is directly related to GE, she says the company is supportive of all of her external educational efforts, whether or not they are directly tied to GE Volunteers. “I volunteer for Black Girls Do Science, a nonprofit started by a former GE Aerospace employee,” Lewis says. “I give talks virtually to students in classrooms all over the country.”

Lewis serves as a material behavior and operations leader based in Evendale. When asked how she’s able to find the time and energy to commit so fully to her volunteer work, she has a ready answer: “How can you not step away from work for an hour or two to make an impact on kids who may or may not otherwise hear from someone like you?”

In March, Lewis was honored by the Gaskins Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on providing opportunities for under-represented youth, for her work championing girls and women in STEM. Her advice for youngsters aspiring to careers in STEM can be boiled down to one simple and powerful maxim: “Don’t be intimidated.”

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.