Event aims to create bonds among women in mechanical engineering
A discussion at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department’s (MAE) Industry Advisory Council (IAC) meeting last fall struck a note with Melanie Carraher.
As administrative associate to department chair Bob Tzou, Carraher is closely connected to the goings-on in MAE. When IAC members expressed an interest in increasing recruitment and retention of women students, she got excited, as is was something she’d been thinking about.
“I talked to Claudia Krueger and some other students at the IAC banquet, and they were really enthusiastic about helping me do something,” Carraher said.
Krueger, a senior mechanical engineering student, also serves as president of Mizzou Engineering’s student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
Carraher approached Tzou, who gave her his blessing — and a small budget — and she and Krueger put together an “MAE Girls’ Night” for the department’s female students.
The pair staged the event in the Mizzou Student Union on a Friday night in early February, and invited all 46 female mechanical engineering majors, pre-engineering majors and undeclared women students in MAE. Their primary goal was to get all of the young women together so that they could get to know each other, with the idea that upperclassmen could serve as mentors to freshmen and sophomores.
“I know that for me, as a woman, it’s important to have a support group, people who you can talk to about mutual experiences,” Carraher said.
“Freshmen often don’t have that many classes here in Lafferre, so they don’t even see the department until later on in the program,” she added. “We want them to think of this as home base.”
After introductions and a buffet dinner, the students broke into four groups and played an energetic game of “Jeopardy!” featuring Mizzou and engineering trivia, courtesy of Krueger.
Carraher then had the students pull chairs into a big circle to further acquaint them by getting them to talk about their favorite things. She also queried them about their experiences and impressions as women in engineering, information she and Gary Solbrekken, MAE director of undergraduate studies and a teaching associate professor with the department, wanted to gather for use in recruitment and retention.
Several companies made donations of merchandise, such as T-shirts, so Carraher was able to send the group off with gift bags. Participants expressed interest in getting together on a regular basis.
“They seemed to really like it,” Carraher said. “I’d like this to be something the students will do themselves, to think of themselves as a community.
“We wanted them to know we care about them,” she said.