Over the course of the past academic year, 17 future engineers and scientists have discussed how to combat a troubling trend in STEM fields: low advancement and retention of women in the workplace. It’s a problem plaguing male-dominated fields that the Aspiration for Women’s Advancement and Retention in Engineering and Science (AWARES) program hopes to change.
“The rates of women consistently working in STEM fields are lagging behind largely due to factors outside their technical skills,” said senior chemical and biomolecular engineering major Allison Staab, one of this year’s program participants. “AWARES makes young women aware of these issues before they need to deal with them in addition to a school-to-work transition”
AWARES was started three years ago by Dr. Gonul Kaletunc, Professor of Food Engineering in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
“We want to encourage students to stay in their career that they put so much effort into. We aim to provide women the knowledge of workplace management skills to build confidence to create better environments for them in their career.” Kaletunc said.
Throughout the program, students discuss contemporary issues that women face in the workplace 1-on-1 with an assigned mentor from their future industry and then meet the next week to continue the discussion in large group learning community meetings. The personal connections that students form both with fellow women in their majors but also women in industry is why Kaletunc believes AWARES is so successful.
“The topics discussed, the Learning Communities, and female mentors make the AWARES program a valuable resource specifically for graduating women to prepare in advance to transition to the workplace,” said Staab.
Hannah Rettig, a junior majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering, and another of the 17 graduates of this years’ program, also finds the AWARES community impactful.
“A lack of confidence in my abilities made it stressful to do the work required of me. I feared failure despite my good grades and strong work ethic.” Rettig said. “In AWARES, I learned that so many others experience the same problem.”
AWARES brings in speakers and hosts discussions on topics such as authenticity, microaggressions, imposter syndrome, and sexual harassment. Students share their experiences, learn how they can combat some of these dangerous trends, and work towards developing solutions.
“Engineers are problem solvers,” Kaletunc said. “We can recognize these problems and we are providing tools to equip women to address them.”
After three classes of AWARES graduates, Kaletunc has seen firsthand the value the program brings. Whether it’s the beginning of a larger cultural shift, or the change seen in a single student, AWARES is making a difference for women in engineering and science.
“I am ready to look at my future with pride and confidence instead of worrying whether I am good enough to do this,” said Rettig.
AWARES is currently recruiting students for the 2018-2019 school year. If you are interested in joining AWARES, please contact Dr. Gonul Kaletunc.firstname.lastname@example.org
-By Chip Tuson