National Engineers Week Spotlight: Inspiring Women in STEM

image of Radulaski, Gu, Chuah, Gundes
left-right, top-bottom: Prof. Marina Radulaski, Prof. A. N. Gundes, Prof. Chen-Nee Chuah, and Prof. Jane Gu

UC Davis ECE is devoted to providing an inclusive STEM education. We recognize that women are an underrepresented group in STEM, and our goal is to provide women engineers strong support networks in order for them to feel like they are part of an inclusive community. Research shows that offering students the opportunity to conduct meaningful engineering activities with role models, can engage their interest and enthusiasm. We have excellent women faculty in ECE serving as role models: Professors Chen-Nee Chuah, A. N. Gundes, Jane Gu, and Marina Radulaski offer their guidance on our students regarding STEM education.

What do you see as the biggest strengths of our ECE students, particularly female students?

Our ECE students are smart and driven by challenging problems. Each individual is very unique and has their own strengths. Our female students perform equivalently well in academics as their male peers. With very diverse life experiences, interests, and skillsets, our female ECE students are bringing different perspectives into solving engineering problems. They are well organized and have established various exciting organizations, like the Club of Future Female Electrical Engineers (COFFEE) and are ready to take on significant engineering and societal challenges.

What has changed in this generation for women in STEM in comparison to the previous generation?

This generation of women see more role models in STEM fields and embrace a STEM identity. These positive influences provide inspiration and deconstruct stereotypical beliefs. Women no longer view themselves as outsiders of STEM activities. Our female students are also more comfortable to bring their personalities to campus than before, and could draw upon social and cultural capital. They are also more vocal about work-life balance issues. Their self-awareness, self-confidence and positive attitudes about engineering, have in-turn, advanced them in STEM. It is uplifting to witness, and they serve as an inspiration to all, including to their professors. 

Advice for our female ECE students for their academic growth and career path?

Nation-wide studies show that there is still a substantial gap of women represented in STEM, and in leadership positions compared to men, though this lag has been declining over the years. We believe that our female students have become more vocal and confident, however we also see that self-doubt and some lack of bravery are still holding back many women in STEM fields, even though their technical background is not worse than their peers. Essentially, it is important to continue to hold courage and be bold in your career, and to try to reach out for research and internship opportunities to figure out what kind of work and work environment fits best to your own personality. One will do their best when you feel your best. Also, remember that any decisions that one makes are not set in stone. Continue to evaluate your options, adapt, and course-correct. 

Another piece of advice is to take time to cultivate professional networks of people with a variety of backgrounds. Men and women, junior and senior; this is going to be your community. Strong supporting networks are very helpful because there are always various obstacles towards success. We will all face challenges, suffer, get frustrated, feel defeated and experience self-doubt. Strong supporting relationships, such as family, friends, mentors, help us to go through life hurdles easier and not derail from our main goals.

Finally, as we face an increasing amount of information and various options for intra-curriculum and extracurricular activity every day, it is urgently important to learn time management and prioritization skills. Try to recognize and avoid taking on too many non-promotable tasks. Make good use of your time, engage in your community, and be a stronger version of yourself!

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