Engineering New Pathways to Success for Women in STEM

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.

More than 100 high school girls took over the labs at Sacramento State University this April to experiment with magnets, play with static electricity, smash concrete, pull metal and get a taste of computer programming. 

The STEM-themed day was made possible by Farah Haweya, a student officer of the Society of Women Engineers. SWE works to change the cultural perception of engineering and other STEM fields as “men’s jobs.” The junior at California State University of Sacramento organized the sixth annual Women’s Shadow Day to make sure that women interested in STEM see pathways into the field that stretch from the collegiate to professional level.

“Although there are some [female] students in the collegiate level studying engineering,” Haweya told Ms., “it’s not a guaranteed path for them to get through to the professional level.”

More girls than boys take engineering classes in high school, according to the National Science Board, but statistics show that they rarely pursue a related career, and only eight percent of those intending to major in a STEM field are women. The NSB maintains that these statistics are linked to gender disparity in the workforce. Haweya, an engineering student herself, believes young girls need to see women like themselves working in STEM, and find support from their parents and community, in order to change those numbers.

Local high school math teacher Marizza Lundstrom brought more than 20 of her students to SWE’s 2018 shadow day. Many of them were immigrants from Afghanistan. The majority of them had never been to a college campus. Seeing an older girl with a hijab on campus, she said, made them feel welcome—and the other young women and the wide exposure to STEM fields at the event helped encourage them to pursue work in STEM fields themselves. 

As immigrants, opportunities like these were unlike any that they had imagined back home. “The path that has been laid out for them,” Lundstrom explained to Ms., “is much different then it could be here in the states.”

Many of the Shadow Day participants are in their early years of high school. Rameen Shah, now a junior, first participated two years ago. Even though the Cordova High School sophomore was enrolled in an engineering academy, she didn’t believe she had the ability to successfully pursue a STEM career—but that afternoon, she changed her mind. 

“The women and other girls I met at WSD opened my eyes to the possibilities and opportunities I had,” she told Ms. “The fields may be male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for women—and for change.” 

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Antoinette Aho is the editor-in-chief of her California high school's student newspaper, The Freelancer, and contributes as an editor to the regional student-run paper The Breeze.