With more than 25,000 Instagram followers, Sgt. Jennifer Ornelas uses her online platforms to reflect her diverse interests, which sometimes includes an Army uniform or fitness apparel, and other days a focus on a lesser-talked about craft.
“I think a lot of people who really like social media don’t see a lot of STEM content creators,” said Ornelas, an electrical engineer and Army reservist. “I wanted to be a bridge in the middle, not fully all STEM, but also showing more of my other interests.”
The Instagram account and website started as a hobby, and as her following grew, brands started reaching out to her.
“I’m just an engineer,” she said. “It’s not all full-time influencers who have the opportunities to do those types of things.”
She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering; is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Arizona State University; and has been a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialist for five years.
STEM skills ‘add to your toolbox’
Jokingly calling herself a “chemmie,” Ornelas also has experience in nuclear engineering and physics. However, she didn’t necessarily set out to be a design engineer – she just knew she wanted to work in the field.
“What you study in college doesn’t necessarily end up exactly what you’ll be doing with your full-time job,” she said. “You can pretty much be doing anything.”
That’s the motto that she wants others to take away from her success. STEM is a great and diverse field, she added. And so long as you aren’t trying to take the easy way out, it can offer incredible levels of growth.
“Doing something that is going to help your future, no matter how long it takes you to get there, is always beneficial. It’s not a race; [STEM skills] will add to your toolbox,” she said.
Women in STEM careers
Service members in particular can follow this route with resources like military education benefits, which Ornelas has done through the Montgomery BI Bill and student loan reimbursements from her enlistment.
Though STEM careers overall are made up by half of women, that number drops significantly outside of medical fields, according to a 2021 report from the Pew Research Center. In engineering alone, just 15% of professionals are female as of 2019 (up from 3% in 1970), according to recent Census data.
During the work week, Ornelas puts in 40 to 50 hours a pop, she said – more than is required. She likes to multitask and document everything to ensure she’s doing her job well.
“It’s hard trying to balance it all,” she said, “but I enjoy the differences in everything I do.”
The JennElectric platform
Though she has little free time, Ornelas enjoys educating others that studying STEM doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in a box, including the world of social media. She also partners with brands to provide the full influencer experience.
The latter is the website and Instagram account where Ornelas shares basic engineering concepts and an insider look at her job. Followers gain access to easy-to-follow graphics (saved in her Instagram stories under the WiSTEM section) that outline basic electrical processes, as well as background pics from her gigs on and off of base. (That is, the views she’s allowed to share.)
She’s had several people reach out and ask her advice about career paths and that pushed her to start explaining things or talking more about her work.
“Maybe I can use the little traction that I gained to show younger women, just because you might want to study anything STEM-related doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your social media life forever.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sgt. Ornelas still works at Raytheon Missile Systems. It has since been corrected.Read comments