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Preaching the Importance of Gender and Engineering Research

August 9, 2009

So, I really admire a lot of the work that Erin Cech has done in gender and engineering research. She actually graduated from college with a dual degree in Sociology and Electrical Engineering in 2005. I attended her talk, “Engineers Who Happen to be Gay”, at the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Conference this year and was delighted to stumble upon her again while looking for feminist engineering literature.

I just recently finished reading her article, “Preaching to the Choir: The Responsibility to Share Women in Engineering Research with Women Engineering Students”. To briefly summarize, she proposes that it is important to share women in engineering research with women engineering students to support those students in developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Personally, I strongly agree. I have found it enormously helpful in my engineering career to discuss my experiences with other female engineers. Women in engineering research is a really powerful way to frame that discussion. It means that our experiences are important and relevant to society.

However, it’s also important to share women in engineering research with male engineering students. It’s absolutely shocking how biased some male engineering students can be without even realizing it. I can think of one instance when I noticed a first year male engineering student only direct his questions and ideas to other male students in a student-run engineering design club. It’s not necessarily that he thought a female student wouldn’t know the answer – he just wasn’t used to asking women questions. He was used to his high school advanced math and science classes that were predominantly male. At the same time, I have male engineering friends who are well-versed in women in engineering research and have made conscious changes in their behavior because of it. For example, I have a female friend who was on a co-ed engineering design team and noticed that the male students were doing the bulk of the design work while the female students were doing the bulk of the aesthetics and managing work. When she pointed this out to one of the male students on her team, he was so horrified that he organized a meeting for first year students to talk about gender dynamics in their design teams. Male students need to be engaged with gender and engineering research just as much as female engineering students.

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