Antonella Sciortino recalls joining Long Beach State faculty in 2004 and seeing every department chair position in the College of Engineering occupied by men. Now Sciortino serves as chair for the civil engineering and construction engineering management department.
“I’m not saying it wasn’t possible for women to occupy any of the chairs, [but] there [are] just not many women engineers, especially women of color,” Sciortino said.
Two of the four current LBSU College of Engineering administrators are women: associate dean of academic programs and administrative services manager. Three out of six department chair representatives are also women — Sciortino is one of them.
According to the college’s dean, Forouzan Golshani, the percentage of women engineers at LBSU currently stands at 20 percent in the college, up from 15 percent just 10 years ago.
In the latest American Society of Engineering figures, the College of Engineering currently ranks fifth for the number of female tenure/tenure-track faculty.
“On the student side with our outreach programs, we have been able to attract more women into the field, but racially we are not where we want to be,” Golshani said. “But [we] have seen an improvement of five and a half to six percent.
Mechanical engineering sophomore, Zoë Smith remembers her ninth grade class at High Tech High Chula Vista in which she saw role models who reflected her identity as a woman of color. Now, she senses the frail support when it comes to her gender and race identity at times in her classes. She has recently only experienced sexist comments and treatment but there had been times in the past in which her identity as a Black women was attacked.
Although, Smith stated the frail support becomes wholesome when seeking out to different resources at LBSU.
“Beach Engineering Student Success Director of Outreach and Recruitment, Saba Yohannes-Reda helped me as a freshman. I’ve been close to her since then especially as a woman of color mentor — she has my back,” Smith said.
In her freshman year at the university, Smith joined 14 LBSU students in the 2017 Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement Student Leadership Conference and entered a one-minute elevator pitch video explaining the significance of engineering to her. The video won her a $1,000 reward, according to a press release from the college.
“Reda encouraged me to submit to the competition in the first place. It was last minute but I let go of the expectations I had for myself as a Black woman engineer and let go of other people’s expectation about me,” Smith said.
Smith also shares the fear of feeling like the only Black female engineer.
“Adding race and gender to the situation makes you feel like you are on a lonely island sometimes,” states Smith. “It’s the power of letting go [of the racial and gender stigma] and just focusing on your work to be successful.”
Dean Golshani recognizes the struggle that women of color engineers as a serious issue and knows the efforts of increasing faculty representation of these groups will be as on-going battle.
“Right now Baha’i students in Iran are deprived of education, and these are things that I was exposed to growing up. It’s definitely made me want to emphasize social justice in my work. By all means, I’m here to help with that,” Golshani said. “My hope in the future is to enable Black and Latina women engineers far more into the world of engineering at LBSU.”
While envisioning the future, Sciortino said she believes the Future Girls @ The Beach and Women Engineers @ the Beach outreach programs for middle and high school students are effective.
Future Girls @ The Beach encourages high school seniors to apply for their annual mentoring program for tutoring, scholarships, and opportunity to be a part of the Engineering Honors Track. Along the same influence and support, Society of Women Engineers host Women Engineers @ the Beach Day and Engineer Girls @ the Beach Day, to invite both middle school and high school girls on two seperate days out of the year for hands-on activities at LBSU.
The only focus is to “make these activities available for these groups throughout the school year, even invite them on campus just for them to get comfortable,” Sciortino said.
Creating an environmental engineering major at LBSU is an idea the college is working on establishing, according to Sciortino.
An area in engineering which has increased women’s participation is environmental engineering. The socialization and humanity factor behind it is what appeals to the female demographic, according to the Harvard Business Review. It’s the culture behind environmental awareness, “shared values, beliefs, and norms” which brings emphasis on the nurturing aspect to a math and physics world that distinguishes engineering’s “hegemonic masculine” culture.
“We are a type of artists in a different way, math and physics are our tools,” Sciortino said with a grin, “We need to maintain his enthusiastic idea of the art to facilitate the new wave of diverse female engineers.”
This story was updated Dec. 6. The number of female engineers in the College of Engineering is 20 percent.