Women in Engineering (WE@UCLA) Five-Year Anniversary

Women in Engineering (WE@UCLA) Five-Year Anniversary

May 2022 marks the five-year anniversary of the establishment of the Women in Engineering (WE@UCLA) program at UCLA Samueli. In celebration of this milestone, we are pleased to share this interview with the Director of WE@UCLA, Audrey Pool O’Neal, Ph.D., on the accomplishments of the program.

WE@UCLA, which is open to all students who support the mission, works in three principal areas: recruitment, retention and career preparation. Before the creation of WE@UCLA, the largest percentage of women in the UCLA Samueli freshman class was approximately 26%. Last fall, women represented approximately 36% of the freshman class.

Q & A with the Director of WE@UCLA, Audrey Pool O’Neal, Ph.D.

“Five years ago, Dean Murthy had the vision, as a transformational leader, to create a program that would enable the full participation, success, and advancement of women in engineering and computer science. Since that time, it has been such a privilege to see that initial vision come to life.”

Q: Over the past five years, what WE@UCLA programs or initiatives have been the most impactful for UCLA Samueli students?
The development of our academy series, as well as the creation of our Awareness to Action training, really stand out as being highly impactful for UCLA Samueli students.

The WE@UCLA Leadership Academy was one of our very first initiatives. Over the years, it has grown to become one of our signature annual offerings to students. This academy is a cohort-based professional development and leadership series designed to empower, improve self-efficacy and provide a sense of community among female students. We have been fortunate enough to enlist incredibly accomplished and diverse female industry leaders, who are also UCLA Samueli alumnae, to serve as keynote speakers and panelists. Throughout the academy we address themes around leadership, including self-efficacy, identity, ethics, confidence, community, and teamwork.

Additionally, we’ve been able to develop a technical academy series. The WE@UCLA technical academies are cohort-based, hands-on, co-curricular series, run by industry professionals. These programs are designed to ignite career interest in specific fields with traditionally low female participation. Currently, WE@UCLA offers two technical academies: The Aerospace Academy and The Semiconductor Academy. Over the course of these academies, our students develop their technical skills while simultaneously building their confidence through hands-on activities and regular interaction with role-models. A testament to the success of this model is that more than 50% of participants in our Aerospace Academy have actually taken jobs in the aerospace industry.

Lastly, our Awareness to Action training is an interactive, multimedia workshop that focuses on the importance of gender and racial inclusion in engineering and computer science. With the support of Dean Murthy, we have been able to integrate this training into some UCLA Samueli engineering courses, and train faculty from every UCLA Samueli department to be facilitators of this workshop. Assessment data derived from the workshop show that participants gain a better understanding of the need for inclusion in engineering and computer science, and that they learn to practice courageous conversations and become more aware of some of the challenges faced by those who are underrepresented in engineering and computer science. Our goal is to expand this training and make it available every quarter starting in the fall of 2023.

Q: What has been the importance of private support to WE@UCLA?
The WE@UCLA Leadership Academy and the Awareness to Action training are completely funded by private support. Without the generosity of our donors, these two very important components to the WE@UCLA program would not be possible.

Private support also helps us to partner with our incredible student organizations and provide joint event programming during Empower Week, which is open to all students.

Q: Looking to the next five years, how do you hope to expand WE@UCLA and specific programs like the Leadership Academy, for example? How will private support help you achieve this?
In the next five years, WE@UCLA would love to get women involved at the ground-level to help solve some of our global catastrophic risks including, but not limited to, pandemics, climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental disaster, destructive artificial intelligence, and biotechnology risk. Your support can help us develop programming that ignites interest in these areas and train our students to become future leaders that can tackle these pressing challenges with confidence. The maximum amount of students that we have been able to support in our current WE@UCLA Leadership Academy has been 36 students per year. Expanding the WE@UCLA Leadership Academy, and similar trainings, will allow us to impact more students and help prepare them to meet our global challenges.

Private funding will also allow us to expand our partnerships with key student groups such as, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Women Advancing Technology through Teamwork (WATT), and the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women (ACM-W) to increase our Women in Engineering Stayover Program (WESP) for admitted freshmen. Increased support for these groups would enable us to recruit more current students to serve as hosts for admitted students. Especially now, with UCLA promising four years of housing for newly admitted freshmen and two years for transfer students, we believe this program has the opportunity to rapidly expand. WESP has proven to be one of the most successful events for helping admitted students choose to study at UCLA Samueli.

Lastly, we would like to develop and implement more programs that are similar to the Awareness to Action training to help improve the overall climate at UCLA Samueli. Private support would allow us to begin creating these additional programs, and to start doing the necessary research on effective ways to implement best practices. Our goal would be to ultimately deploy this new training to UCLA Samueli students, staff and faculty.

As a part of the five-year anniversary celebration, the Office of External Affairs has launched a limited-time five-year anniversary campaign.