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Tell us who you are, and what do you do?
Here’s me in full steampunk-regalia on the airship I helped design while working at FIRST. When the airship was on, the rotors would spin and there’d be lights that kept score. I still can’t believe I got paid to do this.
My name is Jasmine Florentine, and I love making stuff! More specifically, I’m a freelance mechanical engineer and STEM content creator. I love working on projects where I get to combine my engineering and artistic skills into projects that encourage kids to pursue STEM. In my role as a mechanical engineer, I’ve gotten to work on a variety of projects, such as designing parts for robots and inventing a sensor for a brain-scanning helmet. As a STEM content creator, I’ve done everything from designing kits, to building paper robots, to making YouTube videos about engineering design, to creating animated coding lessons.
Here’s a self portrait I drew that captures my love of making stuff, whether it’s engineering or art!
I’m also an author–illustrator. I recently came out with my first book, Hex Allen: And the Clanksmiths , a STEM-fantasy in which the main characters use their engineering know-how to outsmart monsters with everything from LEDs to electromagnets to water balloon launchers. I’m also currently working on a STEM-themed graphic novel.
My first book, Hex Allen: And the Clanksmiths, along with one of the projects that the characters build to escape an enchanted forest. The book includes project instructions at the end! You can learn more about the book here.
What was your path like, and how hard was it to get to where you are today?
I sort of stumbled into mechanical engineering by lucky accident. I always loved making stuff and channeled a lot of that through arts and crafts. I didn’t really know what engineering was when I was growing up and only found out about it in college. Part of my interest in STEM education comes from the fact that I feel like I almost missed out on engineering, and I want to make sure other kids—especially girls—have the opportunity to try it early in their education!
After college, I was really interested in a career that would allow me to combine my engineering background with my love of the visual arts. It definitely took a while, since it’s a bit of a non-traditional career path. At many companies, you’re expected to do just visual design or just engineering, but not both. But then I got a job at FIRST, a non-profit that runs robotics competitions to get students interested in STEM. I had the coolest job—I spent 80% of my time as a mechanical engineer designing game fields for robots, working on projects like an automatic ball sorter and a steampunk “airship.” But I also got to spend about 20% of my time as an artist, doing the visual design that would make the game fields fit the annual theme (like retro video games or Star Wars). Not only was the job super fun, creative, and challenging, but it was also very meaningful! I loved knowing I was getting kids excited about STEM.
After I moved out of the country for my spouse’s job, I struggled for a while to find something like my job at FIRST, since it’s such a unique organization. In the end, I decided to give freelance a try. Freelance meant I wasn’t working for any single company, but could work with lots of incredible people and organizations on different engineering and STEM education projects. It took a leap of faith, quitting my job to strike out on my own, but I’m so glad I did it.
What is the best part about your work?
I love that as a freelancer I get to work with a lot of really amazing people and organizations from around the world, doing projects that are both meaningful and fun. My work doesn’t feel like work because I’m doing things I enjoy and am proud of. But the BEST part is seeing the results. It makes my entire day when someone sends me a video of a ticklish robot their student made that was inspired by one of my projects, or when a teacher on social media says that their class loved the coding lessons I helped create.
A whole line up of Ticklebots, made during an EU Code Week workshop led by Kathrin Weihe. The robots wave their arms when you tickle their foot! You can find links to build the Ticklebot and other paper robots on my website here
What is a day in the life of Jasmine Florentine as a freelance mechanical engineer and STEM content creator like?
There really is no typical day! At the moment, I’m focused on illustrating a STEM graphic novel, so I spend a lot of time drawing. But then other days I’m tinkering and building a more engineering-oriented project, or writing out a lesson plan, or leading a virtual workshop on Zoom. I’d say the only thing in common day to day is I’m always making stuff.
Snapshot of my desk while preparing for a workshop about making paper robots using servos and the micro:bit.
Who inspires you?
Honestly, a whole lot of people! Pretty much everyone I’ve met on my career journey has inspired me in one way or another. I’ve met so many people doing so many incredible things in STEM and at the intersection of art and engineering—people who work at science museums like the Exploratorium and incredible non-profits like The Micro:bit Foundation; makers who create beautiful paper circuits and build 3D printed wearable robots; educators who teach kids how to apply their creative skills to engineering and coding.
I would write out a list of names but it would turn into a very long list.
What is the best advice you ever got, and what advice would you like to give our young readers?
When I was trying to figure out my career path, a friend of mine told me to talk to LOTS of people. I was sort of nervous at first—I was envisioning something formal, like people in suits giving each other business cards, and I also worried I’d be bothering people. My friend told me not to think of it that way, but as an opportunity to talk with amazing people about things we are both excited about; and that I wouldn’t be bothering them—people generally want to be helpful. It was so true! Once I got over my nervousness, I had a ton of fantastic conversations and learned something from every single one. And as my friend said, people like to help, whether it’s through giving you advice from their own experience, connecting you to another friend or colleague, or in one case, giving me an entire rundown on how to get a book published. And now that I’m a bit more experienced myself, I love being able to pass on all the knowledge I’ve gained to help other people as well!