Girl Power: Student engineering group led by all female officers for 2018-19

As meetings go, the April meeting of the Society of Manufacturing Engineering student chapter at Missouri Southern was fairly standard.

Syleris Gwin Martinez, president of the chapter, called the meeting to order and began reviewing the agenda projected on the whiteboard.

There was discussion of upcoming trips to view the hydraulics system at the Wonders of Wildlife aquarium in Springfield; and to Newell Coach in Miami, Okla., which manufactures luxury coaches. Final plans for a senior sendoff were reviewed, as well as the prospect of a bake sale fundraiser, followed by new officer elections for the 2019-20 school year.

Not much out of the ordinary for a typical student club meeting. However, it marked the end of a unique year for the SME chapter – the first since its founding to have an all-female slate of officers.

“It is interesting, considering when I started with this program in 2008, we didn’t have any females (enrolled), period,” said Claudia Koch, assistant professor of engineering technology and the club’s advisor. “In 2010, when we started the SME chapter, we didn’t have any female members whatsoever.

“Here we are, eight years later, and we have all female officers. We’ve done our work getting them interested.”

Along with Martinez, officers for the year were senior Annie Smith, vice president; junior Abigail Randall, secretary; senior Tina Lancaster, treasurer; and senior Tabitha Gray, public relations.

Women make up only 13 percent of the engineering workforce, according to research by the Society of Women Engineers. While the number of women in other STEM fields have been on the rise, the numbers in the engineering field have remained flat since the early 2000s.

Martinez, who served as the SME chapter president for two years, said she has several family members who are engineers.

“I’ve always been organized and methodical about everything and thought if I can fix things, and I like to fix things, (studying industrial engineering) would help me learn the tools to do it better,” she said.

Martinez joined the program at Missouri Southern more than two years ago as a non-traditional student. An engineering technician for Ducommun, she said her involvement in SME has helped her in her career.

“It opens doors for you,” she said of SME. “Everybody can see that your being part of this student chapter and its activities means you’re invested in the field.”

Martinez said being part of the all-female group of officers was a unique experience.

“We all got along very well, and all of us were going through the same process and same struggles,” she said.

Smith, who was elected president for the 2019-20 year, is working as a research and development intern for Joplin’s EaglePicher. Like Martinez, she said involvement with SME has helped her explore her interests in the field. The opportunity to tour area manufacturing plants has been one of her favorite parts of the experience.

“We recently went to Orizon in Grove, Okla., which manufactures parts for airplanes,” she said. “It’s automated with CNC (computer numerical control) machines. It was really neat to see.”

Koch said she credits the number of women in the chapter at Missouri Southern in part to having two female faculty members – herself and Dr. Elke Howe, chair of Missouri Southern’s engineering technology program.

“I think it has helped with any inhibitions they might have (about engineering),” she said. “We’re working to get all students interested. There’s a strong need to fill the STEM pipeline, which can be difficult no matter what.”

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