Three years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.
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Meet Elyse Hill! A CWIT Scholar and mechanical engineering major.
Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.
My interest in STEM was sparked in middle school by my mother. I had a heavy interest in architecture at the time and my mom suggested to me that I should look into pursuing the math and science behind the architecture. That led me to look into engineering, which I found to be a very broad field. In the summer of my 10th grade year, I went to an Exploring Engineering camp at the University of Maryland, College Park where I was exposed to the many disciplines in engineering that UMD had to offer. After coming to UMBC, I decided on mechanical engineering because I found that it was the most versatile of the engineering programs we offer here.
Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.
Last summer, I studied abroad in Lille, France at the Catholic University of Lille. There, many other students and myself engaged in culture classes, french classes, and discipline-specific classes (I took a solar energy course) while getting to experience French and European culture. I was very proud of this experience because I got to successfully apply the language I studied in high school while immersing myself in a foreign culture. The day I was the proudest was the day I wandered around the city of Brussels all by myself with only my map and a language I barely spoke as my tools.
Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field? How have their stories influenced your educational or career goals.
I have many role models in my major, the most impactful of which have beenUMBC’s Dr. Maria Sanchez and Dr. Anne Spence. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in the field of engineering education, something both Dr. Spence and Dr. Sanchez do research in and hold a passion for. When I discussed this field with each of them, they expressed to me their own opinion on the subject and how it is a rising field of great importance. Since hearing their explanations, I have been more motivated to consider the field as a research topic for graduate school. Thanks to an email from Dr. Spence, I found out about an REU focused on engineering education that I applied for and got accepted to for this summer. In addition to their advice, just them being women in engineering is influential to me, and motivates me to become a college professor who inspires students, just as they have inspired me.
Women often face subtle comments (microaggressions) or people who tell them they can’t/shouldn’t be in these majors which are often dominated by men. What would you say to those women or what advice do you have?
To people who have faced microaggressions, my best advice is to be wary of the comments. There are times to challenge the microaggressions, and there are times to let them slide and keep moving on with your life. Sometimes, it’s necessary to challenge what someone else is saying about you. Don’t let someone else get away with hurting your feelings or putting you down because, as my mom always said, “No one can hurt you unless you let them.” In addition, challenging such commentary can be a great learning experience for all those involved. However, there are also times when you don’t need to fight all battles. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it, especially when the person (or people) talking to you will never be able to learn from the experience of addressing the issue. So I say, take the commentary in stride, but don’t let it in any way diminish you or your outlook on your choices in life.
With viral hashtags like #DistractinglySexy or #AddWomen and #Ilooklikeanengineer, women in STEM are using social media as a tool for activism and creating awareness about women’s representation in STEM. What’s your favorite example of women in STEM supporting and empowering themselves and other women to change the narrative about women in STEM?
Elyse giving the thumbs up for her #ILookLookanEngineer shot!
Social media is my favorite example of women in STEM supporting one another. Things like Twitter and Facebook are great ways for the masses to react when something big happens on the internet. For example, Tim Hunt’s comments sparked #DistractinglySexy which led large numbers of females in science to latch onto the hashtag and post about their own lives. I think a community’s reaction to something is the most important part about the world we live in because it gives that community the chance to become visible. Who would have even pictured all the women who would respond with the #DistractinglySexy tag? To those women, they were just living their everyday lives until the whole thing blew up, allowing them a chance to share what they do with the world. Now we all know their stories, which can be seen as inspiration to some. As long as these tags keep themselves going, people’s perspective of the STEM field will expand and illustrate that women can be just as capable and present in these fields as men.
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The Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) is dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the creation of technology in the engineering and information technology fields. CWIT efforts begin with nurturing a strong group of Scholars, grow to building community resources for other women in these majors, extend to fostering a healthy gender climate and ITE pedagogy in College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) departments, and finally expand into outreach efforts to increase interest in technical careers. A successful program for female-friendly engineering and information technology education at UMBC will help make UMBC a destination for women (and men) interested in technical careers and serve as a national model for other universities. To read previous Women’s History Month CWIT spotlights, click here.
To learn more about the experience of women in STEM, check out the American Association of University Women’s report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) which presents in-depth yet accessible profiles of eight key research findings that point to environmental and social barriers — including stereotypes, gender bias, and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities — that continue to block women’s progress in STEM.
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For more information about Women’s History events and happenings, visit the Women’s Center myUMBC group page.