Female engineering students will have an opportunity to gain valuable industry experience through a mentorship club founded by a UTD student.
Jeanie Aird, a mechanical engineering junior, started Women Mentoring Women in Engineering after noticing how women are disadvantaged in the engineering workplace. According to the Society of Women Engineers, only 12 percent of women were engineers in even though they earned a quarter of engineering and computer sciences master’s degrees in 2013.
The objective of the group is to pair an undergraduate engineering student with a female engineer in the industry or academia to provide them with guidance.
“One of my family friends worked in an agricultural engineering department, where it was mostly men. She felt consistently undermined and disrespected. That caused her to leave,” Aird said.
Karen Mazidi, an engineering lecturer and one of the club’s mentors, said that she has seen this problem with retention of women in the workplace throughout her career.
“When I was an undergraduate, almost forty years ago, there were very few women in computer science, and here I am 40 years later and there are still no women,” Mazidi said.
Aird cited studies that point to women disfavoring the engineering industry because of the machismo culture and the lack of effort from engineering firms to retain women.
According to NPR, nearly 40 percent of women with engineering degrees leave the profession or never enter the industry in the first place.
“(My family friend) thought it would be different for her daughter. But it was not any different and she also faced the same hostile work environment. So she started her own company since she dealt with so many issues from her boss,” Aird said.
Mazidi explained the societal bias against having women in STEM fields.
“We have to look at the impact of culture. I ask myself often why women, especially girls, aren’t seeing themselves as potential engineers at a young age,” she said.
Her mentee, Diksha Chopra, a computer science sophomore, agreed.
“How to get women involved in STEM is really important, especially in understanding why we are underrepresented in this area. What prevents women early on in education from getting involved?” she asked.
Aird wants to ready women engineers for the environment they will face in the industry.
“My goal is to foster long-term relationships between our mentors and mentees. Women can enter the workforce more proactive to build bonds with other women engineers and stay in the workplace,” she said.
Chopra said the fraternal nature of the club would help her in her career.
“I think forming a close relationship both with my mentor and the club will be helpful because it will maybe give me some guidance on how to get where I want to professionally,” she said.
Mazidi celebrated the strong community within the club.
“There is a feeling that you are not alone but there are plenty of women that have faced these struggles and have overcome them and you can too,” she said.
The club will meet for the first time on Jan. 24.