WOODS CROSS – Cancer research is a focus for Vibhuti Agrawal as she works toward her Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For Jackie Sly, ocean engineering and mechanical engineering have captured her attention, as she studies for her bachelor’s degree.
Both MIT students shared their interests and their enthusiasm for engineering at presentations around Davis County last week.
MIT has many outreach programs, according to Sly, but the one that brought the two to Utah is specifically geared toward girls, who are now underrepresented in the field.
“You should think about it,” said Agrawal, who is originally from India. “Companies are looking towards women. There is so much demand and not a lot of women. They want that all of you should think about it. It’s challenging. It has its own fun.”
Students who graduate in engineering are often hired right out of school, said Sly. She said for every 51 liberal arts jobs there are 68 engineering jobs.
“There is a negative connotation to engineering,” said Sly. “But with every job, every internship, every experience, that dissolves. Everyone wants to help you because they know you’re capable.”
After having the students consider all that surrounds them that had to be engineered, from chairs to gas from petroleum, the visiting students listed accomplishments in Utah related to engineering.
Slides included a photo of the Salt Lake LDS Temple, which had to be engineered to stand, to support weight and to withstand storms, according to Agrawal.
She recognized Utah’s mining industry, the work of Mario Capecchi in molecular biology and of Philo T. Farnsworth, who engineered the first television.
“Engineering is applying science and math to create solutions to meet identified needs,” said Sly.
She encouraged the high school students to take more math and science classes and to explore physics, even if it is challenging.
“Once you break the ice, it’s really interesting,” she said.
Presentations were also made at Layton, Davis and Viewmont high schools and at Farmington and South Davis junior highs.
Both Hana Walker and Gemma Clark have fathers who are engineers. They attended the Woods Cross presentation to learn more about the field.
“It’s been one of my options,” said Walker. “I like to see what people have to say about it.”
Generating interest in engineering careers has been a challenge, according to Neil Hancey, curriculum supervisor for career and technical education at Davis School District.
“It’s been difficult to break whatever barriers are holding young women back from even investigating engineering, let alone taking it as a career track,” he said.
One student said her friends laughed when she told them she was attending the seminar. They told her she could never be an engineer.
“Don’t listen to people that say that,” Hancey quoted the visiting students as saying. “Listen to yourself and do what you want to do.”
Words of encouragement were very valuable from those who had been in their shoes and proved the nay-sayers wrong, said Hancey.
“We’re starving for ways to encourage the girls to consider engineering careers,” he said. “It was a breath of fresh air.”
Agrawal and Sly praised Utah universities that have good engineering programs, and praised Davis School District for the classes it offers. Besides a wide range of math and science courses, the district offers classes in computer integrated manufacturing, aerospace engineering, civil engineering, architcture, digital electronics and introduction to engineering design.
Though all classes aren’t available at all high schools, the district has a magnet program so students can go to other schools for classes that interest them.
“I appreciate the fact that they said it’s not an easy track,” said Hancey. “It’s hard, but it is worth the effort and very rewarding. They’re going out and launching underwater robots in Alaska (Sly) and searching for a cure for cancer (Agrawal). Who wouldn’t want to win that battle?”