Elizabethtown Encourages Engineering as Career Choice, Establishes Scholarship
01/23/2014   //   By:   //   Features, Research and Academics   //   No Comment
engineering class at elizabethtown dr. atwood with female student

Dr. Sara Atwood guiding students through an in-class activity.

“I’d never heard the word ‘engineer’ in my life,” recalled Abby Haines.

Haines, now a first-year student at Elizabethtown College, enjoyed math and science in high school, but she also loved the arts; she sang in an a cappella group and was a drum major in the marching band. As her college search began, Haines could not decide on prospective majors—and her mom was on her case about it. Then, her mother and stepdad brought up engineering.

“They told me it would mix math, science and the arts together,” she said. “It seemed like exactly what I wanted to do with my life. So I rolled with it.”

Her parents might not have realized they were on to something when they suggested she could “build a rocket to the moon”. There’s a national effort to educate and encourage today’s youth—especially underrepresented populations—about STEM careers, or science, technology, engineering and math. Otherwise students like Haines might never realize the opportunity to turn those academic interests into rewarding careers.

“There’s a lot of talent on the table,” said Sara Atwood of the diversity gap in these fields.

Atwood, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics at Elizabethtown College, added that many areas within the STEM fields have a higher representation of women than in years past, such as in chemistry, biochemistry and medicine. Still, she said, women are still underrepresented in engineering.

They told me it would mix math, science and the arts together…” – Haines

Educating Engineers

Elizabethtown is responding to this call for innovation and education in the STEM fields. The College was awarded a grant by the National Science Foundation to establish and support the Engineering Practices with Impact Cohort (EPIC) for High Achieving Women in Engineering scholarship program. Atwood said the grant ties into a bigger NSF initiative:

“…to get more underrepresented students through STEM degrees and into the STEM workforce,” she said.

The fund serves up to four scholars per year, each of which receives up to $10,000 per academic year for all four years. Additionally, EPIC scholars reside together, along with other engineering majors, in a living-learning community called Partners in Engineering (PIE) and are offered fully funded summer research opportunities.

Geared toward minorities and first-generation college students, the engineering scholarship is based on financial need in addition to academic performance. To be considered for this scholarship, interested students should apply to Elizabethtown College—indicate engineering as a major of interest—and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by Feb. 15, 2014. A separate application is not required for the scholarship, however, an interview is. For more details, visit the EPIC scholarship page on the Engineering and Physics Department website.

Atwood, codirector of the EPIC scholarship program, explained that liberal arts schools such as Elizabethtown are comfortable environments for females who want to pursue engineering. While males might outnumber females in most engineering classes, she said women are not a minority on campus.

“We have a strong record of women who graduate,” she said of the College’s engineering majors. “Elizabethtown is really set up well to support women.” Senior Meghan Donohue agreed; she said she feels as though she fits it at E-town.

“Even if I am the only girl in one of my classes, I’m not a minority. The guys here don’t treat you like one,” she said, joking that sometimes the guys ask the girls for help.

Donohue and Haines appreciate the small-school atmosphere.

“I met a lot, if not all, of the professors here in the engineering department, most of which remembered my name when I came back a year later; that only reaffirmed my positive thoughts,” Haines said.

When Donohue was struggling with physics material, she took advantage of her professor’s office hours.

“Dr. Stuckey turned my whole perspective on physics around,” she said, adding that seeking out help makes you stronger academically. “Most of the professors are so willing to help. Teaching is their first priority.”

Engineering a Career

female engineering student working with project in class

The national STEM effort promotes career paths that might not be known to students. For example, Donohue, like Haines, didn’t know exactly what engineering was when she was in high school, but she loved math and physics. She also knew she was interested in sustainability. After visiting Elizabethtown and talking with Atwood, she learned of the College’s sustainable design major.

“Sustainable energy is big. Everyone hears about it. I thought, ‘it’s something I could do if I went into the engineering field’,” she said. Donohue, who is majoring in mechanical engineering and sustainable design, completed an internship (or, a co-op) at Johnson & Johnson and is gearing up for a project for Elizabethtown Child Care Center. She and her classmates will build a stage and “maybe benches” for the community organization.

“I love service, and I love how [E-town] works it into the curriculum,” she said.

Atwood can readily cite the successes of E-town engineering majors, and she shares a few examples specific to recent female graduates. One is pursuing graduate study in biomedical engineering, another is a project manager for a national Texas-based company. There’s a mechanical engineer in the defense industry and a computer engineer with a government agency. Soon, Donohue will be added to Atwood’s list. While she’s figuring out what she wants to do after graduation, Donohue is still leaning toward ‘green’ and is aiming toward a career in ecological design—redesigning ecosystems.

I’ve always dreamed of living in a home that was financially stable…” – Haines

Not only does engineering allow students like Donohue and Haines to use their science and math skills and their affection for the arts and creative problem-solving, but the field and STEM careers, in general, often offer financially rewarding positions. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that many STEM fields are in demand and pay higher than average. Potential income is another factor that attracted Haines to engineering and to E-town.

“I’ve always dreamed of living in a home that was financially stable. I’ve never had that in my life, so I want to be able to give that to my children when they’re my age,” she said. “I don’t want them to stress about not having what they need or not eating. That’s just a personal goal I’ve set since grade school.”

Engineering was never a passing thought for Donohue or Haines but, by happenstance, they both ended up where they feel they belong. The national STEM initiatives aim to introduce young women to the field earlier, and programs such as E-town’s EPIC scholarship are working to help science-minded students reach those goals.

To learn more about the EPIC Scholarship for High Achieving Women in Engineering or the engineering programs at Elizabethtown, visit the department website.

About the Author :

Donna Talarico-Beerman is director, integrated communications at Elizabethtown College. She also serves as editor of Elizabethtown magazine and managing editor of E-town NOW. Talarico has been helping tell the Elizabethtown College story through various outlets since 2010. Follow her on Twitter: @donnatalarico.