Women represent 24 percent of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce in the United States, a figure that's risen only 3 percent since 1993 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. But a new club at Sonoma State University is working to close the gender gap.
"We already have an electrical engineering club, which is geared toward the boys," says Alyssa Afa'ese, electrical engineering major and president of SSU's new Society For Women Engineers club. "Women are underrepresented in our major, so we wanted to start and organization where women can work together."
The club began in fall 2014 and is working to inspire young women at Sonoma State to pursue their interest in engineering science. Afa'ese believes many women are apprehensive about joining the engineering department because of its low percentage of female students.
Only 14 of the 105 electrical engineering majors at Sonoma State are women, says Lynn Stauffer, dean of the School of Science and Technology. "The Society of Women Engineers club is an impressive group of women interested in encouraging women to pursue engineering careers," she says. "Given the far-reaching impacts of the work engineers do--from building bridges to designing microprocessors--the value of a broadened perspective provided by a diverse engineering workforce helps to ensure the best designs and solutions are found."
Afa'ese credits her interest in electrical engineering to her parents, who inspired her to pursue a career with proportionally few women.
"My mother encouraged me to join this male-dominated field that was in need of female leaders," says Afa'ese. "As a minority, my father also spent 30 years working for a nuclear power-plant beneath engineers. My parents are my biggest motivators and have had a big influence in my choice of study."
Group shot of SSU's Society of Women Engineers club
Though the club only has 10 members (all women), it has seen interest from both undergraduate and graduate students, and welcomes the support and interest of men.
Already, the Society of Women Engineers has become a resource for the women in the major. "We have done a couple tours [of local engineering companies]," says Afa'ese. "We have a lot of graduate students in our club and they need more internship and job opportunities, as well as networking, so we set up tours last semester for them."
The club has also partnered with the Electrical Engineering Club at Sonoma State to encourage collaboration.
Miah Crockett, treasurer of the Society for Women Engineers club, feels the reported ratio of women to men in the science field is a conservative estimate. "That statistic of 24 percent surprises me--I would think it would be lower," she says, describing how many of her classes are filled with men rather than women, which makes the environment more intimidating. She sees a club like the Society of Women Engineers as something that can bridge the gender divide within the major.
"A club like this gives girls an opportunity to not be scared to study engineering," says Crockett. The club meets weekly in Salazar Hall.