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Growth Sector’s Bridge 2 Engineering Program at Saddleback College, Encouraging Women in STEM

June 12, 2015 | By |

Posted from Saddleback College website, www.saddleback.edu

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Two years ago, Saddleback College classmates Leah Jameson, Tara Atkinson, and Mallory Dwees didn’t know each other.

They also didn’t know that in only two years’ time, they would stand out as women in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Why do they stand out? It’s simple math: Currently, women make up only 25 percent of the STEM workforce, while 57 percent of the entire workforce is female.

For these young women, there’s a benefit to entering a male-dominated field: According to a report from the United States Department of Commerce, women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM occupations and are engaged in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovations.

Supporting women to pursue STEM careers has become an issue of national significance. According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, supporting women in STEM is an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate the rest of the world.

Despite the statistics, Leah, Mallory, and Tara remain unfazed. “I’m in the minority as a woman in the computer science program,” says Leah, “I’m only one of two women in my class, but I have no problem competing with my male classmates and showing them that I get A’s, too.”

_MG_0823_amsThese young women are not only bound together by their ties to STEM fields – they share the common thread of the Department of Labor-sponsored Saddleback College Bridge to Engineering (B2E) program, a small learning community for students interested in the field of engineering. Program participants take classes together, receive academic counseling, tutoring, extensive math prep, and in some cases, paid engineering internships. Each came into contact with the program in different ways, but they all agree that its driving force is Katlin Choi, who serves as the student support and project specialist for the B2E program. “She’s like our school mom,” says Tara. “I’ve found myself in her office stressing out about classes or projects plenty of times, and she just listens and gets us calm and focused again,” adds Mallory.

While the women met at Saddleback College, they arrived on different paths. Leah didn’t go straight to college after high school. Like many students, she found a job that could support her lifestyle, and for a while it was enough. However, once she entered her 20’s, she realized that the job wasn’t what she wanted for the rest of her life. So she turned her attention to Saddleback College, where she currently has her eyes set on a career in civil engineering. In a field full of men, she says, “I feel like there are a lot of opportunities as a woman in the engineering field.” Leah is currently considering transferring to either California State Polytechnic University at Pomona or the University of California, Irvine to earn her four-year degree.

Tara made her way to Saddleback College right after high school. Originally, her plan was to go straight to a four-year university, but she realized going to Saddleback first to decide on her major was a better decision. “I had always loved math and science so I figured I’d give it a shot.” First she considered civil engineering, which led to a mathabotics internship. “It was a really good experience,” she says, “but I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career.” A personal experience with a surgeon years earlier drove her next pursuit: to study biomedical engineering. “I would really love to do surgery, but I would also want to be a biomedical engineer. It’s nice to have both options open to me. If one doesn’t work out I can fall back on the other.” She is currently in the clinical care extender program at Hoag Hospital and is interested in transferring to the University of California, Irvine for the university’s pre-med bioengineering major.

Mallory found her way to Saddleback College after relocating to south Orange County. Last summer, with the help of the college, she landed a paid internship at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, where she worked on a test run for a space exploration rover. Had you asked her a few years ago if she imagined herself at JPL, she may have scoffed at the idea. However, when one of her math courses had her grouped with a cohort of B2E students, she began to see herself in that arena, joined B2E and changed her major to math. It was in the B2E program where she learned of the JPL internship, which allowed her to work with computer vision software that utilizes the principles of math and physics. “I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for B2E.” Mallory is currently considering her transfer options and is interested in attending the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, or one of the Cal Poly campuses.

Leah, Tara, and Mallory have done exemplary work and it is women like them that will lead to the diversification of the STEM field. The American Association of University Women stresses, “The representation of women in engineering and computing matters. Diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation. Everyone’s experiences should inform and guide the direction of engineering and technical innovation.”

While they still have some time to go before entering the workforce, Katlin Choi is confident in their skills and abilities, stating, “I’ve known these young women for two and a half years now and I’ve watched them start the program as individuals and evolve into leaders of groups and confident speakers. Each is now able to forge her own path and find solutions. I’m so proud of each of them.”