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The Path from Undecided to I Look Like A Civil Engineer

I never planned to be a civil engineer. In high school, I didn’t consider engineering because I didn’t think I “looked” like an engineer. However, as college application deadlines loomed, based on good advice to apply to college as an engineering major instead of undecided, I applied to several schools as a civil engineering major. My plan was to switch majors as soon as I found my true calling.
At school I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed civil engineering. Despite being the only female in my civil engineering graduating class, I eagerly embarked on a 30-year career as a civil engineer. There were some challenges along the way, especially in the early years before there were as many professional women in the workplace. However wanting to fit in, I rarely mentioned gender issues at work. In 2015, I was working in an office where there were many women engineers and I felt like everyone was treated respectfully and equally. About the only discussion on gender at work were occasional comments from a woman or younger man about the upper management of the company being predominantly male.
Then one summer day, a male co-worker sent me an article about the I Look Like An Engineer Twitter campaign. This was a social media movement, started by Isis Anchalee, to challenge the perception of who looks like an engineer. She asked people who did not fit “the cookie-cutter mold” of an engineer to post their picture to Twitter.
The response was amazing. Thousands of women and minority engineers proudly posted photos of themselves to Twitter. When I looked at the pictures, I felt inspired. Instead of trying to “melt into the background”, which women engineers often try to do, thousands of women engineers chose to stand out in order to change the perception about engineers.
As I scoured the Twitter postings to find fellow civil engineers, I found there were very few. Also, in those first days, all of the photos were of individual women, no groups of women, which gave the sense that these women engineers were isolated in the workplace.
I thought it was important to show that there were successful groups of women engineers working together. Consequently, I contacted all the women engineers in my office, asking them to meet in the lobby the next morning to take a picture for the I Look Like An Engineer Twitter campaign. Since, in my experience, most women civil engineers try not to call attention to themselves, I was unsure how many would show up for the picture. That morning, when I arrived in the lobby, I was amazed that almost every woman engineer working in the office that day had come to be part of the campaign photo. In addition, they were energized about the entire endeavor. Probably for the first time in their career (it was for me), they were being singled out as a woman engineer not because they were an anomaly, but because they were part of a larger group.
After this experience, I was inspired to build on this excitement, and I contacted Aelisa Carr about co-founding I Look Like A Civil Engineer. For the first time in my career, I sought out information about women and minority civil engineers. What I found surprised me:
– Only 12 percent of practicing civil engineers are women
– Last year, about 20 percent of engineering degrees were earned by women, while about 50 percent of law and medical degrees were earned by women
– About 6 percent and 5 percent of civil engineers are African-American and Latino, respectively, while they make up about 12 percent and 16 percent of the U.S. population.
However, our research showed that the civil engineering field didn’t just have a problem attracting women and minorities; it is failing to attract teens as they consider their career options. A study by Intel found:
– 63% of teens have never considered a career in engineering
– Engineering falls to the bottom half of professions with which teens are familiar
We read that teens often say they would not choose an engineering career because they want to work in a field that helps people. This perception shows a lack of understanding about civil engineering. Although our work varies, one common aspect for all civil engineers is that we work towards helping people. For example, civil engineers are responsible for keeping our infrastructure safe, designing the cities of our future, and protecting our natural resources.
As a result of our research, I Look Like A Civil Engineer is dedicated to changing the perception of how civil engineers look, as well as helping people better understand the great work civil engineers do every day to improve the world. We believe this will increase interest in civil engineering as a career and lead more of our best and brightest to choose civil engineering to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

This Is What A Civil Engineer Looks Like

Below is a sample of what civil engineers look like, taken from our website. On that website you can also read civil engineers’ stories.

If you are a civil engineer, we invite you to tell your story at iLookLikeACivilEngineer.com.
If you are not a civil engineer, we challenge you to reconsider your perception of civil engineering by visiting our website at iLookLikeACivilEngineer.com.
Or join us on our Facebook page at I Look Like A Civil Engineer or Twitter at @iLookLikeaCE
*I give permission for press to use the material from this post*

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