2018 Women in Engineering Empowerment Essay – Jillian Hilenski

A movement was born on the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Observatory Steps. The museum was currently displaying what was called, “The Bearded Lady Project”, women in the paleontology field donning facial hair, closely mirroring the stoic men with curled mustaches that had been the faces of paleontology for centuries. These women represented their own reality that they had carved out for themselves.  Small girls could see a different face for their generation. We could do the same for engineering.

Amanda Jancewicz, majoring in Chemical Engineering and myself, Jillian Hilenski, majoring in Mechanical Engineering, saw an area where we could make a difference. Both impassioned individuals, we set off to see exactly what we could do about the deficit of women in Engineering and other STEM fields.

Knowing nothing about starting an initiative, we looked to a trusted advisor and also the Dean for The College of Engineering. Together, they helped lead us through the nuances and proper university approval to launch our movement. After brainstorming for quite some time, a project, which was conveyed by the faces of a diverse group of The University of Akron College of Engineering women’s alumni in their respective fields was made definitive.  It would be called “We are the 16%”. The much too low number, according to the bureau of labor statistics, represented the percentage of women in the workforce across all engineering fields.

We superimposed each woman’s particular discipline’s percentage over a portrait of herself, embodying her trade. Most carried extremely low numbers.  We hung the project within the college where it will stay indefinitely. However, this is not our target audience. The next steps for We are the 16% involve transforming the photos into a kid-friendly poster to be distributed to schools across Ohio and The United States as a whole. Girls everywhere should be able to picture someone who looks like themselves in a field that is dominated by men. We also hope to have a website for this movement where women of all ages can go to get information and resources about these majors as well as read testimonials of college students and graduates. Another avenue to connect with young women and the community is by holding a lecture series at The University of Akron. Bringing in accomplished women to talk about their career journey within Engineering and STEM. This will invoke passion and imagination in young minds. Normalizing women holding these positions is the next step to bringing our culture 34% closer to gender equality.