Why is it important to encourage young women to pursue a career in STEM? For Difference Maker Jenna Deebajah, the answer is simple.
“Engineers work to cater to the needs and uses of the human population. Including a woman’s perspective is crucial to represent half of the world’s population’s needs,” she says.
As it stands, women currently make up the minority of the engineering workforce. The percentage differs by specialization, but according to an analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2021, women make up 9% of mechanical engineers, 10% of electrical engineers, 17% of civil engineers, and 32% of computer and information science engineers.
As a woman completing a degree in mechanical engineering and now entering a career in the automotive industry, this difference maker is finding ways to show the younger generation that engineering is for everyone.
Taking on a leadership role
Founded in 1950, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is an international not-for-profit that works to advocate for women in engineering and technology. Jenna serves as the president of UM-Dearborn’s SWE chapter – the largest engineering organization on Dearborn’s campus.
The organization has been known to host many social and professional events to help students meet their peers, grow their professional network, and learn more about their field of study. One of the biggest events to come from this organization was SWE’s 5th Annual P.O.W.E.R Conference.
P.O.W.E.R stands for Professional Opportunities for Women in Engineering and Research. Eventgoers were able to attend speeches given by engineering professionals, ask questions to a panel of alumni, and take part in professional development workshops hosted by various engineering companies.
“As chapter president, I was responsible for many of the final decisions as well as task delegation. After four months of prestigious planning, watching the event come together was definitely a moment that I will never forget,” she says.
Over 160 students attended the event, including alumna Janet Hall. Hall was the first woman to graduate with an engineering degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn back in 1968. And not only that, but she also co-founded the SWE chapter during her time as an undergraduate.
“It is women like this who paved the way for women like me, and for that, I am so grateful,” Jenna says.
Encouraging young women in STEM
For Jenna, she believes it is important to encourage young women to enter STEM fields, she says, “Studies show that by middle school, students, especially girls, lose interest in STEM-related subjects and are discouraged from careers related to engineering.”
To combat the declining interest in engineering, Jenna joined a couple of outreach initiatives aimed at dispelling the myth that engineering isn’t for everyone.
Jenna went to two different middle schools in the Metro Detroit area and was given the chance to give a presentation to sixth and seventh graders introducing the engineering design process. She also gave students a STEM-related activity that provided a hands-on problem-solving experience.
“I was able to connect with younger students and explain to them that I was once their age and that the journey to engineering is attainable for anyone including themselves,” she says. “Seeing the spark in the middle schooler’s eyes while they experimented with their groups to reach a solution was gratifying.”
STEM consists of a diverse and technical grouping of fields that should be presented as accessible to anyone interested in this type of work or study. Difference makers like Jenna are working to make that narrative commonplace. Encouraging women to feel empowered and capable of entering STEM fields helps to diversify the workforce, narrow the gender pay gap, and prevent biases in the industry.
“Engineering is everywhere, meaning that it should be for everyone. I want to live to see the day when female engineers are no longer the minority.”