Scientists, Technologists, Engineers and Mathematicians are today’s innovators and inventors – whether they are developing new cures, solving tough environmental problems, or building life enriching new computer applications. They work for the coolest most progressive organizations solving complex business and societal problems – and the jobs in these fields are growing at such an explosive rate that we simply don’t have enough people pursuing these paths or sticking with them.

Between 2010 and 2020 the overall employment in STEM (science – technology – engineering – math) occupations will increase by 17 percent and add over 1 million jobs to the workforce, yet not enough students are pursuing degrees and careers in STEM to meet the increasing demand. Eighty percent of the fastest growing occupations require mastery of math and science – and there are already two science and technology job openings for every qualified job seeker. What’s even more notable is that 75 percent of science and engineering graduates are not even working in STEM occupations.

Couragion’s career exploration and self-discovery pursuit will do the following:

  • Proliferate role models in these fields to build awareness of what’s possible

  • Boost intention of people seeking STEM degrees so that we can close the skill gap

  • Increase the likelihood that science and engineering graduates choose STEM careers


Our Stories


Melissa Risteff, Co-Founder & CEO

My favorite teacher in high school taught us our AP classes in the science lab. I was always comfortable there, and didn’t realize that my gender wasn't traditionally drawn to the sciences. I'm happy I wasn't limited by typical gender stereotypes. And yes, I still read nerdy non-fiction about science today.

In my first job out of college I led a big software development project and was fortunate to be partnered with some incredible mentors. That was 20 years ago and I’ve been in love with advancing technology ever since.

I’ve always been drawn to learning new things, and when GE was looking for Six Sigma Black Belt recruits, I leapt at the chance to gain skills in business process engineering, statistics, and change management. I was partnered with an awesome CIO and leadership team who taught me everything about operating an IT organization.

Along the way I was blessed with a gifted executive coach who lit up my passion for professional development and coaching. It inspired me to go to grad school at DU for organizational development and learning (courtesy of Sun Microsystems), where I earned my Masters in Technology Management.

I’ve spent time in the education technology space throughout my career and always come back to it as a passion. And I believe we need career coaching that works, which is why I want Couragion to help people understand their options, decide which might be most fulfilling, and plan an approach to getting there. It’s our way of creating a pathway of role models and courageous champions who are thriving in STEM careers.


Laura Farrelly, Co-Founder & COO

I grew up in the outskirts of Detroit in the early 80s – a time of big hair, cabbage patch kids, MTV and historically high unemployment rates. I watched many family members struggle to make ends meet. As a driven kid, this made me determined to select a career that provided financial stability and strong job prospects.

Always having a keen interest in math and science, I was drawn to engineering but didn’t have a good way to learn about the types of jobs in the field, until I met a young woman that was a mechanical engineer. I overheard my relatives talk about how she had multiple, high paying offers upon graduation. And I noticed she had a super nice car. Thus I began my pursuit of mechanical engineering – earning a bachelor’s degree from Michigan Technological University and then pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Michigan-Dearborn while I worked full-time as an automotive engineer at Ford Motor Company.

While I enjoyed the work, it wasn’t the best match for my personal interests and values. Never being one to settle, I decided to obtain an MBA in order to make a career transition. I selected the full-time program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Since graduation, I have enjoyed a successful 15-year career as a software technology executive. 

I am passionate about helping others learn about the types of STEM careers available so that they too can find the job that is a perfect fit for their values and interests. Couragion will improve the likelihood that grads choose and stay in STEM careers.


Mike Castillo, Co-Founder & CTO

I was born with a natural inclination towards engineering. I was always trying to figure out how things worked, fixing them if broken, and creating new things based on what I learned. My early memories are sparse…something about trying to understand how electricity worked by using a fork and an electrical outlet. I do remember that experiment led to my Johnny Unitas pajamas catching on fire, but that only seemed to fuel my desire to learn more. 

I was one of those early programmers who had to have, and could actually afford, the Sinclair computer with the extra memory option (64K). But I was more attracted to hardware back then, spending way too much time at Radio Shack saving up to buy more chips and other components to build my next project.

It was during my Computer Engineering undergrad that I realized the opportunities with software – you can create anything from virtually nothing. I was hired by Bell Laboratories after I graduated from UNM and with their help I was able to obtain my Masters in Computer Science from UC Berkeley. I was ready to take on the world. That was almost 30 years ago and I’ve been a software engineer ever since. My roles have encompassed all facets of software development, including design, architecture, implementation, and testing. 

I feel lucky that I was naturally attracted to the sciences, because it has been a very rewarding and fulfilling career for me. I am excited to be part of Couragion, and to contribute to the mission of getting more people exposed to and excited about STEM careers.