Women belong in STEM careers, and a program at Cal State Long Beach is hoping to help them get there.
It’s why the university’s College of Engineering is hoping to raise the percentage of women enrolled in engineering studies by 25% by 2025. Currently, there are around 1,000 female students enrolled in the college, accounting for about 20% of the total enrolled students.
“Engineering has been primarily a male-dominated industry, so we’re trying to increase the number of women enrolled here (at CSULB). It’s so critical that women are a part of the engineering process,” Jennifer Didlo said. "You need to have women and other diverse people on those teams as well.”
Didlo is a College of Engineering alumna and former president of the Long Beach power plant AES Southland. She’s also a committee member for the college’s “100+ Women Strong” campaign, a campaign launched last week with the goal of advancing women in engineering and computing fields.
“The desire is to make Cal State Long Beach the destination for women who want to pursue a career in engineering,” she said. “We want them to consider this university as a place they can accomplish that.”
That hope is something Didlo and others have been working toward for years through outreach programs, campus visits for high school students and events catered to women and girls with an interest in engineering careers.
“We need women in engineering,” Dr. Tracy Maples, now interim dean at the College of Engineering, told The Daily 49er in 2016. “Women can bring a different perspective. A lot of things women are doing in engineering is fantastic.”
As the college’s interim dean, Maples said that it’s important for women engineers and leaders within the college to encourage young girls to pursue careers in the sciences. It’s not simply a “boy career,” she said.
“I see myself as someone who did not have an easy path to getting to where I am in engineering today,” she said. “I wasn’t always taken seriously in the workplace or in my classes. I felt that my presence or the ideas that I bring to the table are not of value until a male colleague has the same idea in mind…
“For younger girls to see that my path was not linear and to learn about how hard women have fought for a place here, maybe it might inspire them too.”
With the help of 100+ Women Strong, Maples said that she’s optimistic about the future. There’s many women with established careeors in engineering willing to share their stories and help mentor young engineers that she only sees the enrollment rates moving up, she said.
“I still can’t name a single engineer I knew personally that was a woman. It was always men with chunky glasses and I could not relate to them,” Michelle Heng, senior chemical engineering student and president of CSULB Society of Women Engineers, said. “But I did have a science teacher in elementary school. She inspired me to pursue a chemical engineering degree.”
Heng said that as a first generation college student, she hopes to be able to see more female peers working in the sciences.
“I think the world we live in puts people in boxes and tells people what they’re capable of,” Heng said. “But we get to decide what we’re capable of, what we study. There are no ‘boy' and ‘girl' roles for education.”
According to the National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, about one-fifth of engineering degrees are awarded to women. If the women of CSULB’s College of Engineering have it their way, soon there could be a lot more women enrolled.
“If you can see it you can be it, and I want to be able to pass on the torch,” Heng said. “Women are just as capable as men, and one day the numbers will speak on that.”
To learn more about women in engineering and the resources available from the College of Engineering at Cal State Long Beach for female engineering students, go to csulb.edu/college-of-engineering/women-engineering.