June 8, 2021
Katie Cipkala is Passionate about Girls in STEM
As technical communications leader on Trane Technologies’ Information Technology team, Katie Cipkala is inspired to make a difference for girls interested in STEM. She leads our company’s partnership with Project Scientist, a non-profit delivering high-quality STEM experiences and curriculum to a diverse population of young girls with the support of leading research institutions, universities and companies like ours.
Katie and a core team of Trane Technologies volunteers are lending their expertise to help Project Scientist grow so it can expand its reach and engage even more girls in STEM careers. This work is tied to Sustainable Futures, our refreshed corporate citizenship strategy aimed at supporting young, under-represented learners.
In addition to giving girls access to our own STEM workplace and passionate employee volunteers as part of experiential learning programs like in-person expeditions and virtual STEM labs, we’re helping Project Scientist expand its impact with a three-year grant for $1 million.
“Even though I’ve been blessed with three sons,” Katie said, “I’m driven to spend time with girls that I can see myself in when I was young… maybe girls that don’t necessarily get the same exposure and encouragement that I once did.”
Follow your curiosity
Katie remembers a childhood filled with books and her parents’ encouragement to follow her curiosity.
“I grew up the youngest of three girls, and my parents worked hard, but always found time to help others,” she said. “And even when my dad worked days and my mom worked nights at the hospital, they always made time to take me to the library so I could read about the subjects that interested me. They also signed me up for sports and camps and instilled volunteering into my DNA.
“My parents provided me with everything they could – but most importantly, their encouragement to follow my curiosity helped shape my life and my career. I want to pay that gift forward to other girls.”
From animals to accounting
Katie’s parents Brian and Monica supported her intense curiosity around animals and her desire to become a veterinarian. They allowed her to catch wildlife, like turtles and frogs, and keep pet guinea pigs, dogs and fish. Katie also entered her turtles in turtle races, with her parents’ support.
When it came time for college, Katie enrolled in Virginia Tech’s veterinary school, but switched majors when she realized how difficult it would be for her to see animals in pain on a daily basis. She went into accounting information systems instead, and spent her career in finance, audit, international compliance reviews and cyber security. She was in the technical role of cyber security awareness when she first heard about Project Scientist.
“In my education and career I’ve covered everything in STEM except for Engineering,” Katie joked. “I have the Science, Technology and Math pieces down. My technical career has been so interesting and rewarding, and I couldn’t wait to share STEM with young girls and support them on their future career journeys.”
Enter Project Scientist
Katie started her work with Project Scientist by organizing a STEM expedition for girls at Trane Technologies’ Davidson, North Carolina, headquarters. In the first year, more than 50 employee volunteers welcomed 83 young girls to learn about the technology and innovation behind some of our products, experience a 3D printer in action, learn about the wearable technology we use and hear from women leaders in STEM careers.
Katie welcomes energetic young girls to our Davidson campus for a day of fun STEM experiences in 2019, when we were still Ingersoll Rand.
“It was so energizing to spend time with those girls – to see their faces light up – and know we’re making an impact on young girls who most likely have never been exposed to STEM and all the career options that are available to them,” Katie said.
At the time, Trane Technologies was hosting expeditions in a handful of our U.S. offices and manufacturing facilities. Since then, we’ve expanded our partnership with Project Scientist to provide more funding and collaborate more closely on the shared goal of increasing access to STEM opportunities for young girls. Katie volunteered to lead the partnership, organize our efforts across the enterprise and help strategize for Project Scientist’s growth and increased reach.
Katie works closely with Steve Hagood, senior vice president and chief information officer at Trane Technologies; he chairs Project Scientist’s Board of Directors and serves as the executive sponsor of our relationship. Steve and his team have been providing support for Project Scientist for the past several years, resulting in hundreds of Trane Technologies employees volunteering to work with the girls directly and guide the non-profit’s leaders on financial operations and connect them with resources to help launch an improved donor and volunteer management system.
Related: Read Steve’s recent blog post on Project Scientist’s beginnings and how it’s building dreams and a better future for girls
“Trane Technologies is serving as an enabler,” Katie said, “sharing our business mentality to help Project Scientist build on its capabilities, streamline operations and put its attention where it should be – on the girls it serves.
“In addition to exposing girls to STEM careers, it’s been rewarding to bring Trane Technologies’ STEM-focused women leaders together and spend time with younger versions of ourselves,” she added. “Seeing us all in one place has been inspiring. We talk about our commitment to Paradigm for Parity, and here we are making it happen at the beginning of the talent pipeline.”
In this occasional series, we’re highlighting Trane Technologies’ volunteers in action, the people who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of today’s generation of underrepresented learners. Learn more about Sustainable Futures, our refreshed corporate citizenship strategy, and how we plan to activate the company’s strongest resources to support these young, underrepresented learners.