Nine Michigan Engineering graduate students share their experiences as women in their field.| Medium Read
Women are still underrepresented in the field of engineering in 2019 but are nonetheless striving and succeeding in breaking the boundaries of science and engineering. They have a diverse set of passions, struggles, failures, accomplishments, and role models that comprises who they are and what they do. With this portrait series, we highlight that diversity through the thoughts, feelings, and stories of just a few of our Michigan Engineering graduate students.
IMAGE: A collection of portraits of female graduate students.
IMAGE: “Since my parents were from Oyo and Ogun state in Nigeria, I was raised like a traditional Nigerian child. In the US, I learned American culture through going to school. So coming here was kind of...it was different. It was difficult, because it is kind of rare to see people that look like me and that's challenging. People here are nice but it almost felt like I didn't belong. And then cultural differences too as a black woman, like where do I get my hair done? I have to go out of Ann Arbor to do that. Or like, where did I find my hair products? Like I can't find those in the grocery store.”
-Hollie Adejumo, second year Environmental Engineering PhD Student
IMAGE: “My junior year of high school, my sister left two kids to me and my disabled mom, who makes less than 20 grand a year. It was just me raising these two kids now by myself.
That's what drove me to keep going with education and to make more money, but also to become more independent and free thinking. I want to show them that they're capable of breaking their own cycle of poverty and abuse. That's motivated me my entire life-- making sure I can be there and be the aunt I want for them.”
-Merrisa Jennings, first year Environmental Engineering MSE Student
IMAGE: “I don't apply for awards that are based on my vagina. I think that there's a really important distinction between awards there for consolation versus reparation. I hate when you see that there's two awards that are essentially the exact same thing except for one has ‘female’ attached to it. That's the worst where it's like, oh, here's the best of everyone-and here's the best of the women. It’s like, no, I want the women to be encouraged to put their name in for the best of everything!”
-Rosy Cersonsky, fifth year Macromolecular Science & Engineering PhD Student
IMAGE: “I took a crooked path through undergrad. I am a first-gen college student, so I didn't really have a lot of guidance on what your college path is supposed to look like. I didn't even think about Grad school. But when my [undergrad] professor, Meghna Babbar-Sebens (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), just said it, like just the simple act of verbalizing it, I could suddenly imagine myself in that role. That didn't exist in my world because as a first-gen college student, going to college was a big deal. Like why would you do more? But, it totally changed my life. Now, I’ve been here, and I’ve been to the Amazon rainforest for research!”
-Liz Agee, sixth year Environmental Engineering PhD Student
IMAGE: “You're pouring molten aluminum into different shapes and you're seeing how the structure of it changes with how fast it cools or other methods of post-processing. That got me into metals, seeing the whole process from start to finish. I get a kick out of walking around and knowing why we choose a certain material to do a certain thing.”
In research, a lot of what I do is microscopy -- seeing images of atoms and structure. And now as I keep learning about it, I'm always surprised about what cool things materials can do.”
-Kathleen Chou, third year Materials Science & Engineering PhD Student
IMAGE: “I still get a lot of side comments about the way I look or the way I’m dressed. I was working in the machine shop and an older gentleman said that I was too nicely dressed to be working in the machine shop. I was actually wearing my dress-down clothes. I’m familiar with how to work in a machine shop. I just don’t think he would have said that to a guy.
Another time, during the Rackham Merit Fellowship Orientation, I introduced myself to this guy, and he said ‘you don’t look like an engineer. Why are you studying to get a PhD?’. I don’t look like an engineer? That’s amusing.”
-Laura Andre, Electrical & Computer Engineering PhD Student
IMAGE: “This past summer, I met a young sickle cell patient who was recovering in the hospital. She was the first patient that I had ever worked with or met. [As researchers], we always see the end result. Being somebody who does medical research without being a physician, I feel like a fraud because I don't have to do the hard work of seeing them fluctuate and get sick and get better. But it was also humbling in that there are people who are so willing to know more about this disease and I want to make things better for them.”
-Alison Banka, fourth year Chemical Engineering PhD Student
IMAGE: “I actually started out in undergrad as a music major, and I was doing my bachelor's at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, which happens to be about 40 minutes away from Kennedy Space Center. My first semester there, I saw a rocket launch and thought that was absolutely cool. So I signed up for aerospace engineering as a major. I completely switched career goals from wanting to be a university music professor to wanting to work at NASA.
I feel a sense of pride that I’m doing something technically difficult and accomplishing cool things like building and launching rockets and planning space missions that 50-to-60 years ago were done almost exclusively by white males. Starting this June, I will be working at the NASA Langley Research Center!”
-Emily Judd, second year Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering Masters Student
IMAGE: “There's only a few families that I know that have a complete family [in Suriname]. So a lot of the people I knew, grew up without a father figure. The mom does all the housework and the cooking and then also brings in the money, you know, making sure the family stays together, whereas the dad is the more unreliable figure in the family.
In Suriname, it's more like women have to study science or else they will be stuck in the financial situation that they are in. We have a lot of women in sciences and doing their medical degree. So I think that's part of why I feel confident in sciences. We were expected to do it.”
-Angela Wu, third year Mechanical Engineering PhD Student
For new & extended #HerEngineering interviews, follow Michigan Engineering on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook or share your own story using #HerEngineering.
Story and photos by Somya Bhagwagar