October 21, 2013

Women in STEM

Kirsten Wilde, Civil Engineering ’15, weighs in on the growing popularity of females in a traditionally-male industry.

What is your attraction to the engineering industry?

I just love building things. I’ve always been interested in construction, but I knew architecture just wasn’t for me. I love math and science, so it kind of fit perfectly.

What field of engineering do you hope to end up in?

I don’t know for sure, but I’m leaning more towards geotechnical or project management. I’m not sure yet; my first co-op, at Allan A. Myers, was in project management. I liked it, but I’ve also been applying for structural engineer co-ops, as well. The way the curriculum works, everyone takes the same classes throughout your undergrad until junior year, so everyone has a basic understanding of everything.

What are your thoughts on being female in a male-heavy industry?

I don’t really notice it as much in classes. I think that our professors here are pretty good about it. And out in the field, at my last co-op, they didn’t treat me any different. It is weird being the only woman at events, or being one of four in my class freshman year. It’s just something that when you take a step back you realize it, but in actual classes they don’t treat you any differently.

What does the Society of Women Engineers do?

Our main goal is career enhancement. We go to a lot of career fairs, we go to a national one every year, where there are about 2,000 people, 90 percent of whom are females. We do a lot of giving back to the community. One example is our “Day of Magic,” where we take in high school students and teach them about the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) aspect of college and do activities with them to show them what we do and perhaps garner interest.

What work do you do with the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers)?

We have the concrete canoe competition, which I’m captain of this year, and we have the steel bridge competition, which is where we design, fabricate, and build a bridge out of steel. We also have several opportunities available to us; for example we go to lectures, where we can network with people in our fields, and we do community service.

What is a “concrete canoe?”

We make a canoe out of a lightweight concrete mix, using a mold that we’ve created. We use fiber mesh as well, because concrete is only good in compression, so you need fiber mesh to row it. It’s pretty cool!

Where do you see women in engineering in the future?

It’s definitely becoming more acceptable to society for females to become engineers. There was a big surge in the 1980s, and then it kind of dwindled down. I see that happening again; more and more people are realizing that women can do this and it’s not just a guy thing.

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