Growing up in Venezuela, Society of Women Engineers President Stephanie Avenando received a huge amount of support from her family and peers for enrolling in engineering courses at La Universidad Nacional Expo. As a junior at Long Beach State, this has not been the case.
This inspired her to raise awareness about her male-dominated field. Avenando said that chemical, industrial and mechanical engineering classes in Venezuela were largely occupied by women. She involved herself with electrical engineering due to the power outages in her home country, making her “one female in a million of men,” according to Avenando.
Over 30 percent of females are switching out of science and engineering fields in higher education, according to SWE, and some groups are making efforts to retain women in the fields and promote inclusivity.
Recently, Google awarded LBSU a $35,000 exploreCSR grant for female students to have research-focused workshops.
In a press release, the company claims this grant will help undergraduate women gain confidence in problem-solving outside of school, and inspire them to motivate themselves toward pursuing a career in research.
One such effort being made to accomplish this is “Computing to Change the World for the Better: A Research-Focused Workshop for Women,” a three-day workshop planned to host different computer science skill building workshops and female engineer guest speakers. Shadnaz Asgari, a Google grant recipient and chair of biochemical engineering at LBSU, is planning the workshop for female computer science majors to occur in February 2019.
Asgari hopes this grant will help with creating female role models in the computer science and engineering fields, which impacts female engineers’ feeling of “isolation” when pursuing careers that are male-dominated. According to Asgari, the push to have role models for women in these career fields will encourage different STEM departments to carry on this conversation of inclusivity.
She personally witnessed the gender gap when she was studying chemical engineering and medical research at UCLA. In her classes, she only saw one or two female engineers in a class of 20 male students according to Asgari.
When Asgari began working in the medical field, she noted a difference in the culture because there was a larger presence of women. She knew that this was a benefit for college retainment of other female STEM colleagues.
The gender gap in STEM fields is still relevant today, according to Asgari.
Civil engineering major Xiomara Brito, former co-president of the university’s SWE, shared her perceptions of self discouragement in the field of engineering. She had initially declared mechanical engineering as a freshman but had a change of heart after noting the disproportionate gender ratio of males to females.
“At that time, I didn’t have many women peers to ask in my class for support. I was scared,” Brito said.
Currently, Brito says she still sees only two to three women in her classes. Although, this year she has had seven women classmates in an upper division civil engineering class which shocked her.
According to Avenando, women in Venezuela have more support to pursue engineering than in the U.S. because of the nation’s supply of oil. Despite the family culture that is embedded in the developing country in which women are stay-at-home mothers, they were given this opportunity, says Avenando.
“I’ve had people assume that I’ll finish my degree and not pursue the career after college, especially coming from a third world country when it is expected of women to stay at home,” Avenando said.
Avenando and Brito are actively supporting women in the engineering field at LBSU by conducting workshops that include keynote female speakers from different engineering companies and fields.
“For chapter members, we have a continual project called the Rube Goldberg machine,” Avenando said. “It’s a machine that is built by the group in a complex fashion to do a simple task.”
SWE also has a “SwEekly” newsletter which helps members learn about internship and job opportunities. It also encourages guest speakers to let Brito and Avenando know of any opportunities to share with the student body.
Locally, SWE runs an outreach program in the fall for high school girls, and in the spring for middle school girls to encourage women to apply to an engineering program at LSBU.
The group has bi-weekly meetings from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays in room EN2-102.