A group of female engineers in Kern County inspire young women to discover their own career paths, dispel myths
If you asked Aera Engineering Supervisor Linda Mohammad what led her to become an engineer, she’d say she stumbled upon it at as a teenager growing up in Malaysia. She was fascinated by the sight of ocean waves turning a turbine to generate electricity, during a high-school field trip to a power plant.
“The thought of creating energy was very empowering to me,” said Mohammad, who has been working at Aera for ten years. “That’s what inspired me to be in the energy industry – I saw the value in producing a product that people use and rely on every single day.”
Connie Gonzalez vividly remembers seeing a female aerospace engineer arriving at her high school for a career event. She was wearing an International Orange spacesuit. In that moment Gonzalez says knew she was going to become an engineer.
“Seeing her as the only female among several other male engineers that day, made me think – I can do this,” said Gonzalez, a chemical engineer, who now works as the director of the Bakersfield College (BC) Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program. “I remember her saying we need more women in this field, and that really stuck in my head.”
Mohammad and Gonzalez are part of a group of female engineers in Kern County introducing young women to the profession. The group hosted the first “Introduce a Girl 2 Engineering” event in partnership with BC this spring, a half-day conference designed to introduce ninth- and tenth-grade female students to the field of engineering.
“I believe we can’t be what we can’t see. We are female engineers, who show students why we chose this profession, share why we enjoy it, and what our motivations are. It enables them to see that they too can be the engineers of the future,” said Mohammad, who represents Aera on the committee and is a board member of the MESA program.
Finding their paths
The conference included various speakers, team-building activities and fun challenges – all aimed at inspiring young women to find their own career paths, just as Mohammad did when she was a young girl.
While on scholarship to come to the United States, Mohammad came across a mall exhibit that was all about petroleum—featuring a realistic simulation with a helicopter landing on an offshore-drilling rig platform.
“It felt so real, the vibration on the drilling rig – that was the moment that really solidified my interest to pursue a career in petroleum engineering,” Mohammad said.
A gender gap
Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, women remain vastly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce — representing only 27 percent of the country’s STEM workers in 2019, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Gonzalez estimates that less than five percent of students in BC’s engineering-specific classes are female, despite the increase in female students studying STEM majors at the college in recent years.
Making a difference
Coordinators say the myth that one must excel in math to become an engineer, is the biggest misconception and often serves as the most significant barrier for students interested in pursuing engineering careers. They say there is no reason to think that you can’t make it as an engineer without math being your strongest area of expertise. “We see the need and realize there’s still such a huge gap to fill. Women are so creative, we have developed and done so many amazing things. I encourage female students to have a healthy sense of entitlement to say ‘hey, I can do this!’ To me, that’s how we will know the program was successful,” Gonzalez said.