Women account for only 16% of engineers in the United States, indicating we have a lot of work to do to create gender parity and empower more women to pursue engineering careers. One step to narrowing the gap involves creating awareness among young women about what engineering is and what careers are out there.
The Young Women’s Engineering Symposium at Notre Dame High School is a student-organized annual event that aims to introduce high school women to STEM careers by going straight to the horse’s mouth: women thriving in engineering careers.
This past December, I was asked to participate in the event to speak about structural engineering and share my experiences as an Associate Principal with Watry Design.
I, along with Shashi Sastry, Principal Product Manager at Oracle; Crystal Knodel, Director of Hardware Engineering at Cala Health and Annie Brantigan, Systems Engineer at Cala Health, came together with high school students from around the San Jose area to share information about our fields of expertise and experiences as female engineers, as well as give professional career advice.
It was a great opportunity to create awareness among young women who might not even realize structural engineering is an option. Not only did I introduce them to the field, but I was able to show it through the eyes of a woman and give them someone to reach out to if they have questions or want to learn more.
In addition to talking about our own experiences in the field, the day included group activities that introduced students to engineering concepts. I gave each group of students a cup of gumdrops and 100 toothpicks with instructions to build the tallest tower they could in ten minutes. I encouraged participants to spend about five minutes working together to design a plan, then spend the last five minutes building. Making it a team effort was a lesson in working on a structural engineering design team. I was pleased at how much they enjoyed the activity!
The day concluded with a joint Q&A during which students could ask questions to whole panel or specific speakers.
It was important to me to participate in something like this because I didn’t have anything like it when I was growing up. I see a lot more women structural engineers now than when I first started, but we have a lot of work still to do. If I can engage with just one student, just one, who walks out thinking they want to be a structural engineer, it’s completely worth it, and I think I was able to do that at this event.