This past week, the Cal Poly branch of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to participate in SWE Region B Conference.
This past week, the Cal Poly branch of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to participate in SWE Region B Conference.

Aryn Sanderson

Men dominate Cal Poly’s College of Engineering. A whopping 81.5 percent of the college — some 4,410 students — are men. Despite being a minority on campus, female engineers have made the Cal Poly chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) one of the largest in the nation.

General engineering senior Cait Rahm is often the only woman in her engineering classes. When she walks into a class on the first day, she is greeted by strange looks that ask: Why is a girl here?

Instead, Rahm is asking: Why aren’t more girls here?

Through SWE, Rahm, the vice president of outreach, and other members are working to answer this question and inspire growth in the next generation of female engineers.

“A lot of young girls don’t think they’re smart enough to pursue engineering,” Rahm said. “They say, ‘Oh, it’s all math and science,’ or ‘Oh, it’s just for boys.’ They don’t have the confidence. But, when we go in as females and tell them it’s something they can achieve, the effect is really heartwarming.”

SWE is hoping to empower the next generation of women engineers, from elementary to high school age, Rahm said.

The club, which has approximately 250 members, was recognized as an outstanding collegiate section at the national Society of Women Engineers Conference in early November and won best outreach series for its work with future female engineers.

Laura Harris, Cal Poly SWE president, said although the state of diversity in the workplace is improving, it is still important to stress the multifaceted nature of engineering to younger girls.

“The stereotype of an engineer seems like a man job — people imagine this really industrial setting and heavy equipment, trains, robots,” Harris said.

SWE aims to dispel the stigma that engineering is math and science-based only, Harris said.

“There’s so much variety and creativity, in engineering,” she said. “People don’t know what all engineering includes, so we need to explain the variety of engineering out there.”

The national Society of Women Engineers awarded the Cal Poly chapter’s “High School Shadow” outreach program its highest honor.

During the spring High School Shadow program, approximately 50 high school students who were admitted to Cal Poly came to campus and each admitted student spent a day in the life of a Cal Poly engineer. Approximately 95 percent of program participants were female high school students.

When Harris participated in the program, she had a quiz in an engineering class, and her high school shadow was given a copy of the same quiz to try out. Harris’ shadow ended up choosing Cal Poly.

“It’s cool to see people who shadow you come to Cal Poly and become members of SWE,” Harris said.

Once female engineers come to Cal Poly, SWE makes sure a support system is in place, Vice President of Member Relations and industrial engineering junior Angela Asgekar said.

SWE tries to be an asset to its members, Asgekar said.

“It’s empowering and important to see other strong, smart women in engineering doing well,” Asgekar said. “SWE provides a support system for women in engineering at Cal Poly. We try to reach out to the younger generations, but we’re still very member-focused.”

The club awarded more than $25,000 in scholarships to 29 different recipients.

Funding for scholarships comes primarily from industry sources. Accordingly, four of Cal Poly SWE’s top nine donors  Raytheon, Boeing, Chevron and Lockheed Martin — were ranked in 2012’s Top 50 Employers for Workforce Diversity by “Workforce Diversity for Engineering & IT Professionals Magazine.”

Engineering might be a man’s world for now, but SWE is determined to break — or, at least, redesign — the glass ceiling.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *