More female students finding their place in engineering
By: H.A. Fisher
Amber Mills came to The Citadel intent on majoring in political science. But an encounter with an alum changed her mind.
“I told him I wanted to be a politician because I wanted to change the world,” she recalls. “He laughed at me. He said if I really wanted to make a difference, I should go into engineering.”
Mills followed that alum’s advice (he’s now one of her mentors) and switched majors.
“I love it,” she said.
Mills has found that in engineering she really is using math and science to make the world a better place and solve problems.
And more young women are discovering what Mills has learned – that they can have an impact on a profession largely dominated by men. Female enrollment in undergraduate science and engineering programs increased between 2002 and 2012, according to the National Science Foundation.
At The Citadel, demand for engineering programs – especially among women – is growing. The Citadel now has 34 females in engineering when it only had 10 in 2011 (a 240 percent increase).
Within the last three years, The Citadel has hired its first three female faculty members and is expanding both undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering.
Dimitra Michalaka, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been in the United States for eight years and each year she sees more women pursuing engineering degrees.
As the faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers student chapter, she’s also exposing female students to conferences, events and mentorships with professional female engineers. Attending conferences and seeing so many women in engineering leaves her students feeling excited and empowered, she said.
Mills, who is graduating this spring, said she hopes her work will be judged on its quality rather than race or gender. “It’s about getting the job done,” she said.
When an engineer puts a stamp on a project, every stamp is the same regardless of color, race or gender, Mills said.
The Citadel boasts a 100 percent job placement rate for graduating engineering students and many, like Mills, have jobs lined up even months before graduation.
Mills interned at John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, one of 13 Department of Defense labs and the largest in the United States. She is headed to the Maryland-based university to work in systems engineering and study for her master’s degree.
Mills also will work with the John Hopkins outreach program, exposing children to careers in math and science – something she’s done at The Citadel with Charleston area high school students and Girl Scouts.
“I can say I feel so lucky to have majored in civil engineering,” Mills said. “I’ve had great mentors, and good professors here have made it easier. When people are rooting for you, it makes you want to do better."