By Megan Hale | Reporter
Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is on Feb. 24 and is dedicated to empowering women in STEM and encouraging the next generation of girls to pursue learning and careers in technical fields.
Assistant chair and clinical associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Anne Spence was once the only undergraduate female aerospace engineering student at the University of Missouri-Rolla.
While in graduate school, she said she began to wonder why there were so few female engineering students.
“What if there was a woman in front of the classroom? Would there be more women in the classroom?” Spence said.
This question sparked a passion in Spence to pursue a career in engineering education. She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland in College Park as a Rotorcraft Fellow.
Soon after, Spence said she began asking questions about how to best train the next generation of engineers and bring more women into technical fields.
“How do we make sure that all kids know what engineers do and that they don’t just drive trains, but they create and build the world around us? And how can we make sure that kids who don’t have exposure to a parent who’s an engineer still have the same opportunities to think of that as a career?” Spence said.
Spence said she has begun funneling these questions into solutions by seeking ways to enhance K-12 engineering educational opportunities.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work a lot in training teachers how to teach engineering at the elementary, middle and high school level,” Spence said. “How cool it is to be able to start teaching children, ‘Engineers made this and you can be an engineer too.’ So I think it’s doing that kind of work that makes me feel like I’ve really reached the next generation.”
Columbia, Mo., junior and mechanical engineering student Annika Moser said she views Spence as her personal inspiration.
“To younger girls considering a career in engineering, I’m going to tell you straight up, it is hard work, but it’s super fun,” Moser said.
Growing up, Moser said she never dreamed she would one day be an engineer. With her heart set on pursuing a career in music as a double performance major in violin and piano, engineering was never on her radar. At the age of 14, she watched a YouTube live stream as SpaceX launched and landed the Falcon 9 rocket. Moser said she was awe-struck by the incredible minds and technology that went into accomplishing such a historic feat and quickly realized she wanted to be part of it.
Moser said she plans to intern with SpaceX in McGregor during summer 2022 as a test operations intern.
“I’m really excited I’m going to work for SpaceX this summer because it has kind of come full circle over the past few years,” Moser said.
However, being a female engineer is not always easy, according to Houston sophomore Sarah Michael.
“The sad reality of it is that you have to prove yourself a little bit more than the rest of the students do because you’re a girl,” Michael said.
Spence said often, women in engineering believe they are alone in the obstacles they face in the field.
“I think women in engineering assume that nobody else is facing this problem, and it’s only them,” Spence said. “So, I think acknowledging that we all face challenges, and we can all overcome those. It’s just a matter of staying with it and working hard and just moving through the process to get yourself to where you want to be.”
“I think if every kid had the opportunity to know what engineering was and to determine if it was right for them, that would make my life complete,” Spence said.