Bountiful • Only 20 percent of the engineers in the United States are women, but two female engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited Davis County to try to change that.
The duo visited eight schools in a four-day period promoting the benefits of an engineering degree to more than 500 female students. Agrawal and Sly performed hands-on experiments with junior high girls at South Davis Junior High and gave PowerPoint presentations and had open discussions with high school students.
Agrawal, a biological engineering doctoral student, hopes to one day find a cure for cancer.
"Engineering used to be traditionally a field full of men, but today, things have changed and women are respected equally in this field, and we need more women to enter this field as they can make as good or better engineers as men do," Agrawal said.
Viewmont High School AP physics students listened to what the women had to say. They reminded students that Utah is well known for its engineering marvels from Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, which can be seen from outer space, to being the home state of Philo T. Farnsworth, who invented the television.
"There are very cool engineering marvels in your state to motivate you to pursue engineering," Agrawal said.
Sly said their goal is to let women know that engineers are not made up of the stereotypical nerds, geeks or men.
"I didn’t go to school with 5000 Sheldon’s" Sly said, referring to the geeky main character in "Big Bang Theory." "It’s hard work, but it’s enjoyable. We aren’t nerdy or geeky, but we are a little weird."
Agrawal is enthusiastic when she shares her passion for engineering.
"Biological engineering is being introduced into all parts of science. Insulin pumps, cancer research, stem cell research, there is biology inside of all of it and they need engineers to put it all together. They are active in making materials where tissues and stem cells can be grown. The biological devices have the need for all sorts of sensors, like insulin sensors. There is a lot of cross-discipline in MIT. A place where you have collaboration and really smart people being engaged, you come up with solutions fast," Agrawal said.
Sly encouraged the girls to take as many classes in as many different areas so they can find out what they are passionate about.
Developing an expertise in some areas can turn into lucrative careers.
"MIT has a huge computer science department. Computers are a mystical thing to some people, and if you know how to get the computer to do what employers want them to do, they will hire you and pay you more money," Sly said.
The presenters encouraged interested students to apply to MIT. Once accepted to MIT, 100 percent of tuition will be covered for students who can’t afford it, they said, because MIT does not want financial issues to get in the way of a students chance to succeed.
Viewmont High School senior Rachel Schriever was excited to hear about MIT’s financial assistance program.
"I want to do robotic engineering, and I will definitely consider MIT now," she said.
Neil Hancey, career and technical education supervisor for Davis School District, organized the visit with MIT.
"It was a wonderful opportunity for girls in the school district to learn about career opportunities in engineering," Hancey said.
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