To create an equal future, engineering needs everyone!
Stephanie participating in Future City at age 13
My name is Stephanie Houser. I am an environmental engineer and a woman, but I am so much more than that. I am a mentor, leader, baker, bowler, crafter, problem-solver, advocate, athlete, volunteer, and change agent. Just as it is important to celebrate women in engineering, it is important to realize that we should celebrate all aspects of our diversity. Each facet of who we are allows us to bring different knowledge and experience into our profession and the problem-solving process. This makes us more apt to find the best solution possible to the challenges our world faces.
I chose “everyone” as my word for International Woman in Engineering Day because I see it as a two-pronged solution to the question “What does engineering need to create an equal future?”
First, it means we need to celebrate everyone by acknowledging the diverse perspectives and identities that we all have, and encouraging people to share their experiences with others in our work environments. This means making space for people to express their ideas, encouraging creativity and thinking outside of traditional engineering solutions, as well as promoting work environments that make people comfortable to share and grow.
Second, I chose this word because we need everyone, not just engineers, to work towards changing our perception of engineering. With everyone working together, we can ensure that engineering is a career option for children who have historically not been encouraged to pursue it, especially those whose upbringing has led them to see it as unviable for them.
Stereotypes, social norms, parental expectations, and many other factors are consistently shown to keep girls from excelling at and considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, there are several things that can be done to alleviate this disenfranchisement if everyone works together. Parents, regardless of career, need to support and encourage girls to take an interest in STEM subjects and extra-curricular activities. In addition to influences at home, formal programs can help girls to find their passion for STEM by pursuing partnerships with museums and higher education institutions. Access to a range of insights and role models gives young women opportunities to find mentors and relatable examples to look up to. Finally, dedicated spaces like institute summer camps, STEM away days, and other informal learning opportunities allow girls to draw inspiration and confidence from their peers.
It was through my own participation in programs like these, along with my parents’ encouragement and an amazing science teacher, Mrs Tahk, that I decided to pursue engineering. My journey continues to motivate me to provide the same opportunity to other young girls. One of my favorite sources of STEM inspiration is the Future City program. The program is for US students in grades six through eight (ages 11-14) and teaches them the principles of sustainability, engineering design, teamwork, and much more by having them design a futuristic city on a computer, in an essay, and in a scaled model made of recyclables.
In 2016 I started mentoring my local teams in Future City and now do so across three different states in the US. My experience working with the students has been incredible, as has teaching them about engineering, design, and technology; watching them use their creativity to solve problems; and helping them grow as individuals with exciting new skills. Watching them discuss how reverse osmosis works or the advantages of vertical farming makes me more and more hopeful about our global future.
As much as I enjoy and am encouraged by these experiences, I also know that a single great STEM program is not enough; the students also need to be encouraged at home and in their day-to-day lives.
To achieve this, we need everyone (parents, teachers, relatives, professors, and society as a whole) to actively work to change the attitudes around young girls pursuing STEM, no matter the age, gender, and interests of the young people in their care. You do not have to be a woman engineer to support, hire, and advocate for women engineers.
With everyone working together, we can help girls to realize their potential in engineering so they can go on to change the world in this amazing field.
 Dasgupta N, Stout JG. Girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: STEMing the tide and broadening participation in STEM careers. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2014 Oct;1(1):21-9.
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