Student design competition during Women in Engineering Day

2012 Women in Engineering Day Event Highlights

Women In Engineering (WIE) Day 2012 brought 52 high school girls together to U-Idaho’s engineering campus to experience hands-on projects and college life.

Girls came from Boise, Post Falls, Lewiston and other locales in Idaho and Washington to see for themselves how engineering and computer science careers might suit them.

Currently, the College of Engineering undergraduate student body is composed of around 13% female students (short of the 18% nationwide average). Maybe some of you can recall the days when this number was closer to 5%, or being the only female in many of your classes (we’d love to hear your stories).

Dean Larry Stauffer is committed to increasing this percentage by taking action. “This year we are offering scholarships to each and every WIE-Day participant who meets the GPA criteria. We are currently working on a campaign to enable us to continue to offer financial incentives to our female students for their entire four years.”

Maria Pregitzer, Director of Student Services, claims “high achieving female students are challenging to recruit. They often have multiple full-ride offers at competing institutions. U-Idaho needs to show these students the high caliber educational experience that they will receive by coming here, and of course, we need to be able to compete financially.”

During the morning, the girls split up into three groups and attended three different activity sessions: how to clean up an oil spill, building an electric motor, and programming the COTSbots (commodity-off-the-shelf robots). Everyone enjoyed dining with college students for lunch at Bob’s Place. Then, after a brief tour of the dorms, the participants divided into small teams for their design challenge- the Kick-a-Pult Triathalon. By 3:00pm, everyone was exhausted.

Recruiting great female students is one thing, but keeping them in engineering is an entirely different concern. Our student chapter of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has initiated a mentor program for new female engineering students by pairing them with continuing students.

“Our hope is that by pairing freshmen with upperclassmen we will encourage them to stay in engineering. It can be a little intimidating to walk into a classroom of men and be one of two or three women. Our goal is to let them know that they’re not alone, that we’ve been through this too and still succeeded. We want to give our new students a network system to help them flourish in engineering.”, says SWE president, Sara Sumner, a Senior Chemical Engineer, double majoring in Chemistry and minoring in English.

This ”big sister-little sister” approach provides our new students with another friendly face and someone to go to for advice ranging from calculus help to how to choose the best professor for a class.

Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Denise Bauer, is currently working on ways for our college to improve the climate for female students and other underrepresented student groups. Last spring, she organized student focus groups to discuss inclusiveness in our college. “Even in the 21st century, there are always ways to improve our climate and make everyone feel equally included.”

Our WIE-Day was a fantastic event and we look forward to it every year. Please do what you can to encourage young women to consider an exciting and rewarding career in engineering or computer science.

Here’s what a past WIE participant had to say about her experience a year ago. Sarina was recently accepted into the University of Idaho as a mechanical engineering major for the fall of 2013.

I attended University of Idaho's Women in Engineering Day in 2011 as a high school junior.

Unlike most of the attendees, I had flown over the previous night and stayed with a current student. Staying with students in a dorm on campus really gave me a feel for the atmosphere at University of Idaho and I totally fell in love with the welcoming community I met all over campus. I knew that if I chose to go to University of Idaho I would fit in just fine.

Future Engineering student Sarina

The next day at the Women and Engineering event I found myself in a large room of girls who all had interests similar to mine. We did a small build competition that was a great teamwork exercise and a lot of fun. What was most surprising to me was how much I learned about my group members in just a couple of hours.

After the design competition we toured the University's engineering departments. I got to see the different engineering disciplines offered and it was only then that I realized where I truly wanted to be: a mechanical engineering major. The engineering facilities at the University of Idaho were not only impressive, but I learned I would get to participate in lab work as early as my freshman year. I'd get to jump right into learning what I love in a hands-on experience!

Who would have thought that the Women in Engineering Day would have finally given me the push I needed to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? I am so thankful that I was able to experience this amazing event and I look forward to returning to campus as a student. Maybe one day I too can host a student who will attend Women in Engineering Day. Who knows?

Sarina Cassell