Stepping outside gender norms

Women reflect on lack of representation in engineering department

Photo courtesy of Daisy Valdez-Perez
Daisy Valdez-Perez, sophomore engineering major, smiles with other female engineering majors.

Raquel Denning has always excelled in her math and science classes, and noticed she enjoyed them more than her classmates.

“Growing up, they always ask you, ‘So, what do you want to be when you grow up?’” the senior mechanical engineering major said. “And with that question, I had to think, ‘What did I want to do?’ And with how much I liked my math and science classes I figured, ‘Well, if I could do something that uses both then I think I’d want to do that.’”

Denning decided engineering would be a good fit after doing some research.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a career where I could actually leave an impact somewhere, somehow,” Denning said. “I didn’t want to just go have a job and just work every day till I burn out and not really contribute anything or leave a legacy. With engineering, I feel like there’s a perfect mix of my interests and it also gave me opportunities where I could actually do something or help people out there.”

Denning is a part of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). SWE is a non-profit education and service organization dedicated to empowering women to succeed in the field of engineering. SWE also accepts male members who support women in the engineering field. Denning said SWE is a great way to meet other women in the engineering program because she usually doesn’t see a lot of other women in her classes.

“It makes me feel like there are people out there like me that I can relate to, with girl problems specifically,” Denning said. “We know that we’re a minority, and we have to deal with being around all of these guys all the time.”

Denning said they help each other out with classes and give each other advice.

“It’s just a really good time to hang out and talk about if there are some issues we want to bring up that we maybe won’t be comfortable to bring up to just anyone,” Denning said.

Denning has volunteered for events through the engineering program, like judging for a LEGO robotics competition. She also went to Austin, Texas, for the annual SWE contest with other members of SWE.

Denning is taking her third internship this summer. She sees herself having a role in a manufacturing environment in the future.

Daisy Valdez-Perez started looking into engineering when she was a senior in high school. The sophomore engineering major was thinking about going into business before she talked to her friend’s all-engineering family.

“They started to talk to me about the career of engineering, and I became very interested in it,” Valdez-Perez said. “I started noticing that a lot of people were going into business and more of the other common majors and I said, ‘You know what? I kind of want to be different.’ I don’t really want to have the same kind of major.”

Valdez-Perez decided to research engineering.

“It was just really interesting to me, and I feel like I’m more of a math and science person than a literature or writing person,” Valdez-Perez said. “So that’s when I decided, ‘Hey, I’m gonna try out engineering and see how it goes.’”

Valdez-Perez decided she really likes engineering and wanted to stay with it.

“You have to think about a lot of things whenever you solve a problem and I feel like I was like that and I feel like that was something I could do great,” Valdez-Perez said. “Problem-solving, I knew that that was what interested me.”

Valdez-Perez joined SWE when she was a freshman and is currently the president of SWE.

“Women in the engineering field is something I’m very passionate about, and I feel that, since I was passionate about it, I would run for president,” Valdez-Perez said.

Valdez-Perez said SWE is a way for women in the engineering major to get to know each other. SWE has a social every month and a conference they attend every year.

“There aren’t many women in the engineering field and I feel like women are really capable of being engineers,” Valdez-Perez said. “I feel like some don’t realize it or they may be scared of going into the field because it’s more male-dominated, and so I think that sometimes they need that little push and they need to see more women so they can be like, ‘Oh, I want to be like them.’”

Valdez-Perez has noticed fewer women in her classes they further she’s gotten in her career. She said she’s been able to know more women in engineering through SWE.

“It’s really empowering because there’s a whole bunch of women, and you know they’re going into the same career you are. It’s just amazing to see how it’s growing, and how when women are put together how powerful they can be,” Valdez-Perez said.

Valdez-Perez wants to add more things to SWE, including more speakers from outside USI coming in so the members can have more networking opportunities. She would also like to take members on corporation tours.

“I just want to see it grow,” Valdez-Perez said. “I want more women engineering majors here at USI to see, ‘Oh, well, if I join the Society of Women Engineers it’s going to be really beneficial to me.’ I also want to them to see it as an opportunity to get to know the rest of the girls in the engineering major.”

Valdez-Perez wants to use her major to travel around the world and make an impact.

Denning would encourage incoming female engineering majors to put themselves out there and study a lot.

“Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone because, most of the time, the stuff you do while you’re doing that is the most rewarding,” Denning said. “Don’t hesitate or be shy and take opportunities. At least try to the first time, because the relationships you make are really rewarding.”