Society of Women Engineers fosters empowerment, inspiration

The Baylor Society of Women Engineers creates a safe environment for women to pursue their career goals. Photo courtesy of Jenna Kabot

By Audrey Patterson | Reporter

Sugar Land junior and president of the Baylor Society of Women Engineers Jenna Kabot said the purpose of the Baylor Society of Women Engineers is to uplift members in pursuit of engineering by providing a safe community and career opportunities.

“It can be difficult to pursue a major as difficult as engineering alone, but to be a minority makes it that much more difficult,” Kabot said. “There is a lot of pressure that is put on us female engineers simply because we are women.”

The society’s activities range from fun study nights to presentations by female leaders in engineering organizations. Dr. Anne Spence, faculty adviser for the Baylor Society of Women Engineers and assistant chair and clinical associate professor in mechanical engineering, has also led discussions on microaggressions and how they can get male allies to support women in engineering.

“If we had equity in engineering, I think we wouldn’t need [the Society of Women Engineers] because everyone would be treated equally,” Spence said. “It’s a support mechanism. It’s a place to learn about how you can better navigate the waters as a woman engineer.”

Kabot said membership isn’t exclusive by gender in order to join the society.

“While our membership at [the Society of Women Engineers] is primarily female engineering students, we do have several male students who are members and regularly participate in our events and opportunities,” Kabot said. “We welcome men into our society with open arms because, in order to create that equal playing field, we need male allies who support us and our mission.”

Kabot said that despite our society learning to be more inclusive, we do not live in a perfect world.

“Gender roles still do play a role in female student engineers’ experience and their college careers,” Kabot said. “Whether it is faculty and staff or student peers, there can still be instances where a female student is patronized or put down, typically unintentionally. I have been in this position before. It can be easy to let that get into your head and feel discouraged, but ultimately, you must put that aside and remember your passion for engineering and your goals.”

Spence said she believes no matter who you are, you should not be discounted in your field because of something that makes you different.

“When I started working in my first job, I had an incident where I started working on a project, and the fella in charge of the project said, ‘Well, I don’t work with women.’ I said, ‘Well, sorry. You gotta work with me because I’m on the project,’” Spence said. “Women are starting to push back. And I think that’s the key to having more women [in engineering], is women standing up for other women and men standing up for women.”

Kabot said the female engineer who inspires her is Martha Coston, a mother of four children who continued her deceased husband’s work on the pyrotechnic flare. In 1859, the U.S. Navy paid Coston $20,000 for the patent rights to the flare.

“What inspires me the most about her story is how she proved that you can be a full-time mother but also make great contributions to science,” Kabot said.

Spence said the female engineer who inspires her is Mary Jackson, NASA’s first female African American engineer. Jackson was encouraged by her engineer boss at NASA, Kazimierz Czarnecki, to become an engineer by completing a training program.

“Not only was she the only woman in the training program, but she was the only African American in the room,” Spence said. “She was a pioneer for many of us in aeronautical engineering.”

Spence said she hopes students are able to realize the importance of female support in their future fields.

“I hope the students learn about how important it is to connect with other women in engineering and not just be doing their job,” Spence said. “How important it is that they find that affinity group — and not just to complain, but to kind of support each other and help each other grow, teach each other techniques that have worked well for them. So I really hope it’s an empowering group that helps them feel like they belong in engineering.”