UCF society calls for increase in women engineers
Overlooking the atrium of the Engineering I building from the fourth floor at UCF, there are seven men at one table, three men at another and just two women near the staircase.
Engineering classes may be geared toward both men and women, but studies show that there is a heavier male presence in classrooms than female.
Through the engagement of professors, students and the UCF Society of Women Engineers — a campus organization involving the coalition of women in the engineering field — there has been a strong call for the increase in women engineers.
In 2013, the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science had an undergraduate enrollment of 7,014, with roughly one in seven of those being a woman, equating to just 14.6 percent of the college.
As of this year, the total student enrollment at UCF is 60,821, with a presence of women at the university possessing 10 percent more of the total population than men at 33,500 to 27,321.
"I think, in general, people want to know that they are making a difference, particularly women," said assistant professor Dr. Jennifer Pazour. "Once you show that you're capable, people are supportive."
Pazour said it seems there are misperceived notions of what an engineer does in society and that's where the confusion could possibly come from.
"I suppose there could be more education and communication of the fact that engineers do make a difference in the world," she said.
Melissa Harris, a sophomore civil engineering major, said that she can sometimes feel uncomfortable because of the fact that men and women in the engineering field might not start on a leveled playing field.
"I've heard people say and insinuate things, like I was 'too pretty to be in a certain class,'" Harris said. "I know people aren't trying to be mean, but I'm actually smart and I'm not here for my looks, so I really have to try harder to prove myself. It's part of my being to be successful."
Women engineers are supported throughout campus, as UCF's SWE works to ensure that women feel comfortable and have the opportunity to interact with those who share similar interests and goals.
"It's really nice to know that SWE can be there for support and you know that there are women who feel similarly to how you do," said SWE member Emily Judd, a senior aerospace engineering and music performance major.
SWE is a national organization of nearly 30,000 that offers scholarships to women for their excellent contributions to the field and gives them the ability to display leadership qualities to one another.
Dr. Pamela McCauley, an advisor for the UCF's SWE, is an esteemed advocate for women engineers at UCF, as she has written a research-based book on the growing need for women and STEM professionals.
"I felt like if I messed up, the future of black female engineers was on my shoulders," McCauley said. "I've learned not to carry other people's issues and not be so concerned with what they say."
Jake Pretzell, a sophomore civil engineering major, said that while he understands the concern for more women in the engineering field, men treat women as equals whenever they can.
"I definitely see where some guys could make girls feel a little more uncomfortable, but if you're capable, no matter who or what, you'll be respected," Pretzell said.
Although attention and support have gotten better for women engineers, McCauley said they need to get much, much better.
Timothy Briggs is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.