Tag Archives: women in engineering

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

There Is Another Linkspam (4 September 2012)

  • So Long, Barbie Dreamhouse: Roominate Gets Girls Excited About Architecture and Engineering: “When Jennifer Kessler, Alice Brooks, and Bettina Chen were first-year masters students at Stanford, they couldn’t help but notice a striking absence of women in their math and science classes. Wanting to inspire an enthusiasm for the hard sciences in younger generations of girls, the women created Roominate, a buildable toy dollhouse that teaches kids about subjects like architecture and engineering, their website reports. Roominate is a stackable set of dollhouse rooms, made for girls ages 6-10. Each set includes build-your-own furniture, circuit boards, color-coded wires and a mini-motor to operate lights, fans and buzzers. Once girls decide on an overall structure for their houses, they can choose to wire each room for light or electronics, take apart and reassemble the customizable furniture, and even change the wallpaper as they see fit.”
  • Amazon Customers Go Rogue, Hilariously Review Bic’s Idiotic Pen for Women: “We’ve discussed the ridiculousness of Bic for Her — the pen specially marketed towards women, which, no, does not mean that they’re branded with the face of Betty Friedan — in the past, but it seems that consumers have now taken the mocking of the product into their own hands via Amazon UK, a site where you can now find page after page of brilliant and hilarious fake product reviews from clever users who are alternately thrilled that there’s finally a tool that women can write with, confused because they’ve never seen a pen before or concerned about the dangerous path that allowing women to write will inevitably lead us down.”
  • A Challenger Appears for the Fake Geek Girl Meme: “But if there’s one we wouldn’t mind eradicating from the internet, it’d be the Idiot Nerd Girl Advice Animal meme. It’s emblematic of the persisting idea that tells people it’s ok to nastily call women out for not being “authentically geeky” enough… Dark Horse Comics editor Rachel Edidin, however, had the idea to try and turn that around a week ago, by creating a sort of anti-meme that, instead of presuming that the pictured girl is pretending to like nerdy things in order to get attention, presumes that the girl actually knows her stuff and is tired of people assuming she doesn’t because of her gender. And a week later? A quick check of QuickMeme is about half full with defiant nerd girls.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence] Study Says: Television With Powerful Female Characters Causes People To Have Higher Opinions Of Women: “The idea that a powerful female character outweighs violence against women so much that women actually find those shows more reassuring than shows without violence at all is pretty amazing. The idea that the men in the study found shows with sexual violence against passive women to be the most comforting is less so.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence] Joss Whedon Is The Tim Wise of Sci-Fi: “He includes ~strong female characters~, feminist characters, queer characters in his work. Great, I’m in. But then he proceeds to do really gross things to them. He undermines them, tears them down, places them into incredibly misogynist and abusive frameworks and then frames their heroism as clawing their way up out of that (if it doesn’t kill them) without adding anything new to the discussion. Then he proceeds to collect praise for confronting issues when he’s not really confronting them so much as using them as cheap narrative devices.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Closeup of a slide staged on a microscope stand

Cultural Forces in Geek Inspiration

An interesting survey by an Indiana University science education researcher and Scientific American reported the following about what sparks people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields:

Based on data from a randomized sample of universities and online volunteers who completed a survey, men and women who pursue STEM degrees tend to become interested in science in elementary school. When asked which people and experiences helped to spark their interest, women were more likely than men to select a teacher, a class at school, solving math problems and spending time outdoors, whereas men were more influenced by tinkering, building and reading. As men and women enter college, passion for the field far outweighs all other influences as the main reason for their persistence.

They have some nice graphical representations of their results as well, but it’s worth adding a bit of cultural context here.

“Tinkering” and “building” represent a broad class of activities that boys are pushed toward and girls are pushed away from. These activities can not only provide inspiration for STEM degrees, but also function as practice for laboratory work and problem solving, which is to say as practice for STEM degrees and careers. When Lego sets aimed at boys encourage more creativity and agency than Lego sets aimed at girls, there are real consequences down the line. It is great that so many men are lead to STEM degrees from tinkering and building. But unless we accept the lone tinkerer as an archetype for any gender, this path to a geeky career will be less likely for most women.

Two of the stronger factors for women entering STEM degrees, “a teacher” and “a class at school”, comprise structural external encouragement. It makes perfect sense that this would be more important for the under-represented gender in any field. If a girl doesn’t see people like her in a certain career, she may not consider it seriously as an option, unless she is directed there by something external like a class or a teacher. The good news here is that external factors can make a difference in bringing people to STEM careers, especially under-represented groups.

The largest percentage of respondents (38%) said that the drive to be in STEM came from “self”, and by the time college rolls around, “passion for the field” is the most popular reason to persist (three times as popular as the next three reasons). But still, these self-directed passionate scientists add up to less than half the total! For the rest of the group, and if we want to increase the number of women in STEM fields, it’s critical to have a culture that values science and mentors that seek out and encourage potential scientists.

Google Summer of Code 2012

My goal: inform women’s colleges about Google Summer of Code

Google Summer of Code 2012

Google Summer of Code 2012 - help me publicize this to college women!

If you have contacts at women’s colleges, let’s work to get a GSoC presentation there before March 20th. I’ll help.

Google’s open source team has now announced that Google Summer of Code 2012 will happen. Undergraduate and grad students at accredited colleges/universities around the world can get paid USD 5000 to work on open source projects as a full-time three-month internship.

Upcoming deadlines: 9 March, mentoring organizations need to submit their applications to participate. 6 April, student application deadline.

Open source software development is a rewarding and educational way for students to learn real-world software engineering skills, build portfolios, and network with industry and academe. Women coders especially find GSoC a good entry point because they can work from home with flexible hours, they get guaranteed personal mentorship, and the stipend lets them focus on their project for three solid months.

The best way to get in good applications is for organizers and students to start early, like, now. Students who download source code, learn how to hang out in IRC and submit patches in early March, and apply in late March are way more likely to get in (and to have a good experience) than those who start on April 2nd. So I want students to hear about GSoC (and hopefully about MediaWiki, my project) now. I’m willing to work to publicize GSoC this year and even if my project doesn’t get accepted, the other projects will benefit.

I successfully got multiple good proposals from women for my project last year, and this year I’d like to double that number. To that aim, I want to ensure that every women’s college in North America that has a CS department or a computer club gets informed about GSoC between now and March 20th, preferably with an in-person presentation. I started this effort in February and have already gotten some momentum; I spoke at Wellesley last week to much interest, and Scripps College held an info session today. But I need your help.

If your college isn’t on the list I set up, add it. If you can find contact information for one college listed on the wiki page, send them a note, and update the wiki page, that would be a huge help.

If you want goodies to hand out at a meetup, you can contact Google’s team. Let them know when you decide on a date, time, and location for a meetup so they can put it on the calendar. People have already prepared resources you can use: flyers, sample presentations, an email template, a list of projects that already have mentors listed, and more.

And of course, if you’re interested in applying, feel free to ask questions in the comments!

P.S. I’m only concentrating on North America because I figure that’s a limited and achievable goal; there are only about 50 women’s colleges with STEM curricula.  But GSoC caters to students worldwide. If you know of accredited women’s colleges outside North America that have CS curricula or programming clubs, please inform them and add them to the page. Thanks!

Front view of lego line-following robot

Wednesday Geek Woman: Marita Cheng, Robogals founder

Cross-posted with minor edits from Hoyden About Town.

Marita Cheng is the Young Australian of the Year winner this year. She’s been involved in volunteering since she was a high school student, and in 2008, early in her undergraduate studies (mechatronic engineering and computer science at the University of Melbourne) she founded Robogals, which is an engineering and computing outreach group, in which women university students run robotics workshops for high school age girls.

Marita, while still in the final year of her undergraduate degree, is also an entrepreneur and has been previously awarded for her work as founder of Robogals, including winning the Anita Borg Change Agent award in 2011.

While I have heard of Robogals (there’s talk of a chapter starting at my university), I hadn’t heard of Marita specifically before she became Young Australian of the Year. One of the fascinating things about starting the Ada Initiative is slowly discovering all the other amazing women who work in technology career outreach and related endeavours. But it’s a little embarrassing, judging from her bio, to have not heard Marita Cheng’s name before last week.

Congratulations Marita.


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Stata computer science building on the MIT campus

Wednesday Geek Woman: Anne Street, president of the MIT alumni association

This is a guest post by kim. This post appeared on her blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

I met Anne back in the ’80s, when we both worked for an engineering firm specializing in infrastructure. She has a dazzling technical background, with multiple degrees from MIT, at a time when women MIT graduates were few and far between. Her specialty then was business development for applied engineering, and she took me under her wing as she made her rounds of the nuclear industry and associated Government and research entities.

Anne taught me a lot. There’s the obvious – how to read and answer Government requests for proposals. And there’s the not-so-obvious. How to engage engineering vision. How to distill the musings of the stratosphere-inhabiting set and transmit their thoughts to non-tech folk, without being didactic or condescending. How to be the only (or almost only) woman in a field dominated by men; taking neither nonsense nor prisoners, but doing so by subverting from within rather than wasting energy on pointless direct confrontation. How to lead the unwilling. How to build a team of people who might not be happy about putting in after hours and weekend work; shaping them so that in the end they were damned proud that their output was of the highest quality, because that way all the overtime was a badge of honor, and not wasted effort.

Through all of this ran a wicked sense of humor. She held a wake when a particularly large and desperately desired potential opportunity came in as a loss – complete with black balloons, a model coffin, and wilted flowers. The telephone play of her convincing the florist that she WANTED dead, droopy flowers was priceless. Her parties were legendary: Tinkertoys as icebreakers; mystery role playing gatherings; just the things to make totally unconnected creative folk from many walks of life unwind together, even though they had just met as strangers. I still have the glass lampwork beads and jewelry we made. Three houses and 20 years later – her daylilies still bloom in my yard. And I’m still writing engineering proposals.

But most of all Anne was always the epitome of encouragement. There was no field, no technical arena, no bit of knowledge too arcane to tunnel into and to share. She taught me to step aside and engage the brain when I read, to assess not only face value content, but possible sub rosa influences; and to always look for the proof or the root cause. And that in the end, everything can be researched because there is no priesthood. Women and men without tech degrees can through curiosity, enthusiasm and perseverance, always find meaningful and substantiated data.

Anne today is president of the MIT alumni association, where I am sure she’s using connections and influence to further the cause.

Way to go, Anne!

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Detail of circuit board

Wednesday Geek Woman: Sandra K. Johnson: parallel processing expert

This post appeared on my blog for Ada Lovelace Day 2011.

Dr. Sandra K. Johnson (also known as Sandra Johnson Baylor) got interested in electrical engineering through an invitation to go to a high school summer camp program at Southern University, a historically black university in Baton Rouge. At the time, she thought engineering was all about “driving a train” but she decided she’d go anyway and get out of town for the summer. She loved engineering camp and went back to Southern to get her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, and ultimately went on to become the first African-American woman to get a PhD in electrical engineering in the United States.

While working as a researcher at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Lab, Dr. Johnson worked on the prototype of the SP2 processor for IBM’s “Deep Blue” chess machine, as well as a variety of topics in the extraordinarily difficult field of highly parallel computing, including memory and IO behavior of parallel programs, cache coherence protocols, scalable shared-memory systems, and the Vesta Parallel File System. (If you’re looking for her publications, many of her papers are published under the name S. J. Baylor.) She held a number of high-ranking positions at IBM, including Linux Performance Architect, and managing the Linux Performance team.

Ironically, Dr. Johnson is currently working as an IBM business development executive in the United Arab Emirates, a relatively progressive country next door to Saudi Arabia, where she is not allowed to drive, among other highly discriminatory laws against women.Often when people claim we have already achieved legal gender equality (in their own country, of course), they forget that science, technology, and business are global activities, and career advancement often depends on working in several different countries. [Correction: The original said women weren’t allowed to drive in UAE, which was me confusing Saudi Arabia with UAE.]

Sandra Johnson’s books are representative of her career: She was editor in chief of Linux Performance Tuning, author of Inspirational Nuggets, which encourages people to reach their full potential, as well as co-author with her brother of Gregory: Life of a Lupus Warrior, about her brother’s fight with lupus (Sandra was subsequently diagnosed with a non-life threatening form of lupus). Dr. Johnson is a combination of intellectual powerhouse and kind mentor. She’s on her way to the top, and she wants to bring other women (and especially women of color) along with her.

I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Johnson at the Grace Hopper women in computing conference in 2010, and I was deeply impressed. She was not only intelligent and competent, but incredibly supportive of other women. Dr. Johnson on how to become an IEEE fellow (or get any other award): It’s not magic, you have to tell your friends and mentors, “I want to be an IEEE fellow,” and then get someone to take responsibility for bugging your friends to write letters to nominate you. Don’t feel bad about asking for recognition, that’s just how it works.

Sandra Johnson is also a public speaker, with booking information on her web site. I highly recommend her as a speaker. She’s clear, informative, and inspirational in a practical and realistic way. If you get a chance to see her speak, jump at it! Personally, I hope I get to meet Dr. Johnson again.

So, next time someone says there aren’t any women in electrical engineering or processor design, you can pipe up with, “Oh, I can’t believe you haven’t heard of Dr. Sandra Johnson! She did all kinds of work on parallel processors and cache coherency for highly parallel systems and, oh yeah, the Vespa parallel file system too. She even worked on the prototype for IBM’s Deep Blue! Did you know she was also the first African-American woman to get a PhD in electrical engineering in the U.S.? Right now she’s working in the Middle East, can you believe that irony? If you ever get the chance to see her speak, take it!”

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Ellen Ochoa simulates an emergency egress

Wednesday Geek Woman: Ellen Ochoa, engineer and NASA astronaut

This is a guest post by L. Minter. L. Minter is a blogger at Feminist Book Club and Constituent Riposte.

Ellen Ochoa portrait in spacesuit

Ellen Ochoa

Ellen grew up in La Mesa, California where she received a B.S. degree in Physics from San Diego State University. She went on to Stanford University where she earned a M.S. and doctorate in Electrical Engineering.

During her doctorate and a little while after, she studied optical information processing. She is the co-inventor for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and method of removing noise from images. She was the chief of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at NASA Ames Research Center where she supervised many engineers and scientists on aerospace computational research. She has also published many papers in scientific journals.

In 1990, Dr. Ochoa was selected to be an astronaut for NASA’s space shuttle program. On her first mission in 1993 aboard the shuttle Discovery, she conducted a 9 day study of solar and atmospheric activity on Earth’s climate where she used the Remote Manipulator System to release and capture the Spartan sattelite.

Ellen Ochoa simulates an emergency egress

Ellen Ochoa simulates an emergency egress (photo by NASA, public domain)

On her second mission in 1994, Dr. Ochoa was the Payload Commander for the Atlantis Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science. For this mission, she studied the sun’s irradiance changes and the effect that it has on Earth’s environment. Again, Dr. Ochoa used the RMS to retrieve the research satellite.

Her third mission, aboard Discovery in 1999 was to perform the first docking for the International Space Station. She coordinated the delivery of 4 tons of supplies to prepare for the first crew to live on the station.

On Dr. Ochoa’s last mission in 2002, aboard the Atlantis, she visited the International Space Station and used the RMS to not only install the SO Truss, but also to move space walkers around the station. This was the first time this was done.

Ellen was the first Latina woman to enter space. She has received numerous NASA, science, and engineering awards. She is currently the Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center.

Wikipedia: Ellen Ochoa
NASA: Astronaut bio: Ellen Ochoa

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Sandra Magnus exercises in the Destiny Module on the ISS, in zero gravity

Wednesday Geek Woman special edition: Sandra Magnus, STS-135, and the end of the shuttle program

Back-to-back American astronauts, yes. Special occasion! This is by request, from deborah on July 7:

Sandra Magnus is flying on the last NASA space shuttle launch tomorrow– how about a quick hit about her? And about being sad about the space shuttle. :-(

Space Shuttle Atlantis en route to launchpad

Space Shuttle Atlantis en route to launchpad. Image by NASA, public domain.

We’re a little late to the party, so I’m scheduling this entry for about twelve hours prior to the end of the mission: landing is scheduled at 21 July 2011 9:56 UTC.

Sandra Magnus has a PhD in materials science and engineering and has worked on stealth aircraft design. This is Magnus’s 4th Shuttle mission, but third trip into space: she spent 134 days in orbit between November 2008 and March 2009, travelling to the International Space Station on STS-126 and returning on STS-119.

Sandra Magnus exercises in the Destiny Module on the ISS, in zero gravity

Sandra Magnus exercises aboard the ISS, March 2009. Image by NASA, public domain.

STS-135 is the 33rd mission for Space Shuttle Atlantis, and the final mission of the Shuttle program. See NASA’s video of the launch. NASA TV will be showing coverage of STS-135 throughout the planned landing.

Fouad and Singh, Stemming the Tide

There’s been lots of links around the results of Nadya A. Fouad and Romila Singh (2011) Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering. Since it’s freely available, I thought I’d encourage people to go directly to the source. Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary:

KEY FINDINGS: Some women left the field, some never entered and many are currently engineers:
Those who left:

  • Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary.
  • One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture.
  • One-in-four left to spend time with family.
  • Those who left were not different from current engineers in their interests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomes they expected from performing engineering related tasks.

Those who didn’t enter engineering after graduation:

  • A third said it was because of their perceptions of engineering as being inflexible or the engineering workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
  • Thirty percent said they did not pursue engineering after graduation because they were no longer interested in engineering or were interested in another field.
  • Many said they are using the knowledge and skills gained in their education in a number of other fields.

Work decisions of women currently working in Engineering:

  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate.
  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers. Current women engineers who worked in companies that valued and recognized their contributions and invested substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers.
  • Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations.
  • Women who considered leaving their companies were also very likely to consider leaving the field of engineering altogether.

Nadya Fouad is also writing blog entries about the study, the most recent is Is it all about family…?:

We heard from women who said that leaving to raise a family was not their first choice, and if the work environment had been more welcoming or flexible, and if supervisors and coworkers had been more supportive of employees’ balancing multiple roles, they might not have made that choice.

Have a look through Stemming the Tide: what stands out among their findings to you?

Wednesday Geek Woman: Beatrice Shilling, aircraft engineer and motorcycle racer

This is a guest post.

Born in 1909 in England, Beatrice Shilling saved up for and bought her first motorcycle at age fourteen, at which age she was already able to take apart and reassemble its engine. A year later, she decided on a career as an engineer, and on completing her schooling she became an apprentice electrical engineer. In 1929 she began a degree in Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, followed by an MSc in Mechanical Engineering.

Soon after graduating, she took up motorcycle racing at Brooklands, on a Norton that she had modified herself. She soon became the second woman to complete a lap at over 100mph, and later became the fastest female racer ever at Brooklands, with a lap speed of 106mph.

Taking up a job at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, at first as a technical writer before moving into an experimental engineering role and then becoming a Senior Technical Officer. She was known not to suffer fools gladly, regardless of their relative position to her in the hierarchy; she did not usually need to offer a spoken reproof, as her penetrating stare was sufficient. She became a leading expert on carburettors, solving a serious problem with the Spitfire fighters’ engine cutting out in downwards manouevres; she also worked on other aspects of aircraft engineering. Of course, she also applied common-sense engineering approaches to her home life: There are plenty of pockets of resistance in this house occupied by spiders so I decided a flame thrower was the only thing for under the sink.

After the war, she continued to work in aircraft engineering, including on early ramjets. She was never promoted as far as she would have liked; although she made efforts in such directions, she admitted that she lacked diplomacy and interest in pleasing superiors; and her casual appearance, in old corduroys with a top pocket full of pens, cannot have gone down well in the stuffy, formal structures of the Civil Service. She disregarded unnecessary formalities, and disliked bureaucracy to the extent that she said that Britain won the war because of the shortage of paper! Although her manner could be terse, and some people found her intimidating, she cared about her team, disappearing briefly to fetch fish and chips for them if she kept them working late at night.

In her retirement, her biography “Negative Gravity” records that

Her idea of relaxation was to drive a fast car at full throttle, and if the car was not fast enough, her workbench was there in the back room to machine new parts to make them faster.

As they became too old to be safe in motor racing, Beatrice and her husband George Naylor moved on to rifle shooting, at which they both excelled. She died in 1990, of cancer of the spine.

Wikipedia: Beatrice Shilling
Matthew Freudenberg (2003). Negative Gravity, the Life of Beatrice Shilling. Charlton Publications