At UNC Charlotte, the William States Lee College of Engineering is an attractive program.
For starters, most classes are taught on the Charlotte Research Institute campus, well-known for its alluring academic buildings and state-of-the-art facilities. In addition, most students can graduate in four years and move on to a hiring field. Plus, an engineer’s paycheck is fair.
In fall 2016, UNC Charlotte recorded that the college’s undergraduate population was 3,107. Less than 400 of those students are female. Why?
Research shows that engineering is a field which women don’t gravitate toward. Studies suggest that girls divert from math and science at a young age. In 2015, Microsoft found that 11-year-old girls interested in STEM subjects quickly lost interest by age 15.
The following are students in UNC Charlotte’s engineering program. Many of whom are leaders of females in their major.
No one introduced Alexis Montague to the possibility of being an engineer. It was an interest she found herself. Even when she saw an advertisement for the field, it always featured men.
Now, Montague is a mechanical engineering major with a concentration in biomedical engineering and is president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at UNC Charlotte.
“I was always a hands-on type of girl. I would always take things apart and put them together,” Montague said.
Her mom enrolled her in engineering camps which exposed her to civil engineering but she wasn’t sure about the different types until she did research online. That’s how she found her major.
Montague thinks females stray away from her major because of the unfamiliarity.
“I don’t get to see a lot of people that look like me or other girls within the classroom studying,” she said.
But that’s not the only con. Stereotypes play a large role.
“I feel like sometimes people don’t take you seriously. They think that ‘oh, she’s just going to be here for the first two years and then she’s going to transfer out into another major.’ I feel like sometimes they think we’re not built to learn,” she said.
Montague has seen why women stray away from engineering.
“I’ve heard multiple girls say ‘when I was in high school, I thought about maybe majoring in engineering but somebody told me it would be too hard,’” she said. “I’m just like ‘who told you that would be too hard for you?’”
Those challenges have helped Montague grow. Today, she describes herself as someone who has thicker skin and a stronger voice than before.
As a high school student, Alshraefarana Alharthi’s teachers suggested she pursue a field outside of science and math. Her aunt told her engineering was difficult and she wouldn’t make it. Even her grandfather, someone she describes as pro-education, was shocked when she told him she was considering engineering.
This spring, Alharthi will graduate with a major in systems engineering after serving as president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at UNC Charlotte.
“I’m defying everything that everybody thought I was going to be,” she said.
Alharti was encouraged by her parents to take on a challenging major that would lead to a stable career and income, specifically engineering, medical or law.
“My mom raised us saying that if we weren’t better than she is then she didn’t do a good job,” Alharthi said. “She’s a biochemist so it’s really hard to beat that.”
Alharti doesn’t think she faces challenges as a woman in engineering.
“I think it’s even something better. I bring in a different mindset than the guys do,” Alharthi said. “Especially when you’re in a group of five and you’re the only female, the Powerpoints definitely look better.”
She likes to be challenged, under pressure and on a deadline.
To other women interested in engineering, Alharthi says they should try it and never give up.
“If you’re 50 percent on the border of ‘should I do it or not’ just stick to it… If you don’t like it, don’t go through it because you won’t be happy… If you’re just scared, if that’s the reason, just power through it and it will all work out.”
Raised by a single mom, Giana Avent spent a lot of her childhood in her mother’s mechanical engineering office.
Entering college, Avent jumped right into the engineering program at Charlotte, joined organizations and loved the community, so much so that she added civil engineering onto her construction management major.
Although Avent does see mostly positives, she has noticed differences between herself and her male peers, especially with group work.
“I might be one of two girls. Me and her are gonna get together and we’ll find two other guys,” she said.
The challenge is putting yourself out but once you do, she says, everything gets better.
“You do meet a lot of good people… I strive to look for more women. I’ve met great friends. We all have the same aspirations, same dreams,” Avent said.
As for advice, Avent recommends students build a support system, cut out what they don’t need to have better time management, know their limit when it comes to credit hours, and most importantly, love what you do.