“I wanted to return to our core mission of increasing the number of women in engineering, to go back to the roots of the organization,” explained Baley Fong, president of the UCLA chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
With this goal in mind, Fong suggested to her fellow SWE officers that they visit their high schools and junior high schools during Winter Break to promote engineering and the programs at UCLA. She created a PowerPoint presentation drawing on her experiences at UCLA about the various engineering disciplines in the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science as the basis for their presentations.
“If we can reach female students when they’re younger, and get them interested in engineering,” says Fong, “we’ll be able to increase the number of female students majoring in engineering at UCLA.”
Initial efforts were so successful that the members of SWE decided to conduct visits over Spring Break as well. Thus far, they have reached nearly 1,500 students at schools around California, receiving very positive responses from both the teachers and students.
“We have offered to host interested students on campus, and have received several emails from students who wanted to visit UCLA and learn more about the programs,” noted Fong.
Plans are underway in the School to significantly increase the number of women majoring in engineering. Dean Vijay K. Dhir would like to see the percentage grow from approximately 18 percent to 30 percent in the next several years.
“We are committed to expanding the pool of qualified engineers and scientists in California,” said Dhir. “Without reaching out to students who might not otherwise consider careers in engineering, we will not be able to meet the growing demand from industry for well-trained graduates.”
Frank Nevarez, the School’s new education coordinator, is working with student organizations like SWE to increase the number of women in engineering at UCLA.
“In addition to supporting the students’ efforts, we’re developing ways to encourage young women to consider UCLA,” explains Nevarez. Prior to this year’s Open House, members of SWE and other students called women who had been admitted to UCLA Engineering, to answer questions about classes, encourage them to attend the Open House and welcome them to campus.”
Nevarez also is helping place female high school students in laboratories in the School during summer. The students will work closely with graduate students and faculty on cutting-edge research, and experience engineering first-hand.
Next year, Fong will serve as outreach director for SWE, and hopes to reach 5,000 students by the time she graduates. Following the group’s initial outreach efforts, Fong wrote a brief article for the Los Angeles SWE newsletter, asking other SWE members to suggest local area schools that the UCLA students might visit.
In her presentations, Fong illustrated what it means to be a particular type of engineer through her scuba gear.
“I talked briefly about the role each discipline of engineering would play in the design of the equipment – mechanical engineers who worked on the valves, civil engineers to calculate the pressure strain in the tank, materials scientists to create synthetic materials for the wet suit, and so on,” she said. “I was also able to highlight other long-term career possibilities in other fields such as dentistry or law from my engineering friends’ experiences.”
To learn more about UCLA SWE’s activities, click here.
Main Image: UCLA Society of Women Engineers officers Leslie Huang, Amy Kwan and Baley Fong