THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM: A LOOK AT WOMEN IN ENGINEERING

NATHAN STEPHANY, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER

“I didn’t feel intimidated until I stepped into the workplace. Then you realize that you’re the only person that looks like you in a room,” Jenna Levine, Wartburg second-year engineering major, said.

Only 20% of undergraduate engineering degrees are awarded to women, according to a study conducted in 2016 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That same study found that only 13% of the engineering field was made up of women.

JENNA LEVINE

Levine considers herself an outgoing person. That much is plain for anyone who meets her, according to classmates. However, intimidation still seeped in for Levine when she realized she was the singular woman in the engineering department where she completed an internship last summer at United Equipment Accessories in Waverly.

Still, engineering fields have always found exceptions to the male-dominated rule. Nancy Post, director for the intelligent solutions group embedded team at John Deere, has worked in the field of engineering for more than 30 years, mostly at John Deere. Post graduated as one of two women out of the eight initially in her engineering class from Hawkeye Tech.

“My first five years I worked at Rockwell and was the only female on a team of 90,” Post said. “Years later, at John Deere, it’s still been the same quite often. I’ve been the only female on large teams or in the room for meetings.”

Engineering is generally a field dominated by males. Enrollment and employment numbers from universities and engineering programs show that women typically make up 24% of the population in STEM careers, according to “The Future of Women Engineers” by Forbes.

“Less and less I feel like people are willing to say to you that certain things are off-limits because of who you are,” Levine said. “When I tell my advisors, one of whom is a woman, by the way, in Wartburg’s engineering department, that I’m considering patent law, there’s no one saying ‘you can’t do that.’ All I’m hearing is, ‘all right, let’s look at what you need to do to prepare.’ I’m sure that’s not the way it’s always been, but it’s nice for where I am now.”

While in high school, a teacher and Wartburg alum, noticed Levine’s strong interest in math and science and suggested a future in engineering.

 Dr. LeAnn Faidley, associate professor of engineering at Wartburg and one of Levine’s professors, has been at the college since 2011, first teaching for five years at Iowa State University before becoming an assistant professor at Wartburg.

DR. LeANN FAIDLEY

The number of women in engineering has not shifted significantly since she was one of five women in an Iowa State University engineering class in the mid-90’s, according to Faidley.

“Some classes I’ve taught don’t have any females in them,” Faidley said. “It changes very much from class to class in regards to who’s in there. I have five to six females out of a class of 27 freshmen. In my senior class there’s only one out of nine. I hold out hope the number of females increases in engineering. I have no idea how realistic that hope is or what time frame that rests on.”

Faidley, who had her second child in late 2019, also addressed the difficulties women in the industry face when they have children. During her time at Iowa State, a policy was introduced allowing educators to delay tenure if they had a child. However, Faidley said the staff was discouraged from using the policy.

“This wonderful policy existed, but when you were up for tenure, even if you delayed a year, you still had to show, say, seven years of work when I was supposed to be spending one of these years not working and raising a child,” Faidley said. “There was this wonderful policy but the reality wasn’t supportive.”

While the discussion of diversity in any industry is worthwhile, sometimes the question of why it is necessary is raised. Faidley had some examples at the ready.

“There was once a research project using a certain type of wire and it was a mess, they didn’t quite know what to do with it,” Faidley said. “This group ended up crocheting the wire using a knitting pattern. That’s not saying a woman came up with it or a man didn’t because it’s knitting, but it points to the idea that different people with different backgrounds made that possible. If you only use people that look and think like you, you’ll only ever get ideas you would have thought of.”

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