The University of North Florida wants to recruit and retain more women in its engineering program. The college’s School of Engineering announced Thursday the Center for the Advancement of Women in Engineering aimed at doing just that.
Women make up around 14 percent of the of the engineering workforce, and UNF Mechanical Engineering Professor Alexandra Schonning said it’s unacceptable.
“It’s not enough to keep our economy strong,” Schonning said.
She’s working with a colleague, psychology professor Susan Perez, to begin the initiative. Schonning said her center’s work will include outreach in schools, starting in elementary, to tell students what engineers do beyond just math and solving problems.
“It really contributes to society,” she said. “We need engineers to have a planet that’s blue and green in the future and to have medical solutions for people in need.”
And while she’s in schools, she plans to address gender stereotypes.
“We have a lot of girls already at the age of six thinking they’re not as intelligent as the boys are,” she said.
Those stereotypes can contribute to fewer women pursuing science, technology engineering and math careers.
“When I went through college there were many times I was the only girl in the class,” Schonning said. “There were many times there were a few of us. It was okay with me to be in the group setting working on problems but on the social aspect it’s difficult being the single person.”
She said she’s seen women drop out of the program because they feel they don’t belong.
Through her center she also plans to connect all students with peer mentors at UNF and coaches from the industry so they stay in the field.
The last piece of the center will focus on the advancement of women engineers. She said it involves hearing from local women in the engineering industry at a forum, something the college has been doing for three years.
“We bring them to campus and we hear their concerns are and what successes they’ve had and issues related to being a minority in the field.” Schonning said.
She hopes to expand the forum into more of a conference.
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.