March is Women’s History Month!
This year’s national theme is Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This theme is meant to honor generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields.
As part of our Women’s History Month celebrations, the Women's Center and CWIT are partnering to showcase six talented women in engineering and IT fields at UMBC. The future of women’s history is being created as we speak and there is importance in sharing our lived stories now. We invite you to join us throughout the month of March to learn more about these women, their experiences, and their dreams.
Nicole Racine, CWIT Scholar
Freshmen Mechanical Engineering major
Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.
For as long as I can remember, science has intrigued me. One of my earliest school memories is clutching two plastic cups in first grade – one filled with hot water and the other filled with cold water – and watching sugar cubes dissolve. I remember being baffled when I saw the sugar cube dissolve faster in the hot water. What sort of miracle caused this to happen?
As I grew, I continued to be fascinated with the world around me. If my dad was working in our garage, I wanted to help him. In school, I thrived in my math and science classes, and especially enjoyed hands-on labs. Choosing my high school class schedule was always difficult because I wanted to fill it with all the science, mathematics, computer science, and information technology courses available.
When first I began to think about my educational goals beyond high school I was very overwhelmed. How was I supposed to pick one major that encompassed my love for mathematics, science, and physics? After exploring various careers and talking with family members, the answer became clear: mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineering is the ideal major for me because it applies the laws of physics and mathematics to analyze problems and design solutions. It is a subject that incorporates all my intellectual interests and inspires me to study science, not only as a participant but also as a contributor.
Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.
In summer 2012 and winter 2013, I interned at the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. I worked with a materials engineer and a mechanical engineer investigating the mechanical behavior of single-woven Kevlar® fibers at different loading rates. Based on the research, I wrote a document that was later published, summarizing the experimental procedure and results.
Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field?
I have a plethora of role models in the engineering field who have inspired me each in their own way to pursue my degree in mechanical engineering. I met many people, some internationally known, that motivated me to pursue an education in the STEM fields, but my most influential role models can be narrowed down to one person, my father. My dad is a mechanical engineer and he is the reason I love figuring out how things work and interact with each other. In elementary school, I used to go to my family’s garage with him and work on little projects that he graciously let me help with. I was awed by how talented he was with everything from woodworking to mechanics, and now, years later, I am still impressed by his talents.
Explain your experience as a woman in a STEM major, including the challenges as well as the rewards.
Growing up in a household with two engineers was truly a blessing for me. Dinner discussions about poorly designed systems, innovations in science, and available technical opportunities were a common occurrence. I used to take for granted the knowledge that constantly surrounded me, and I assumed that all my female friends felt the same about science and math as I do. But in high school, before I chose my mechanical engineering major, I became aware of the gender disparity that women face. The majority of the students in my upper level high school courses were male, and my female friends questioned my decision to major in a STEM field. I was surprised that my female friends felt uncomfortable with technology and were not aware of the opportunities available in my chosen career choice. As I advanced in my academics, I experienced the gender imbalance in technological fields firsthand. At my internship at the Army Research Laboratory, I am the only female in my branch of twelve people. If it were not for my excellent support outside of the workplace, I would have felt vulnerable and unwelcome in my chosen field of academics.
Once I realized that women are underrepresented in the technological fields, I decided to act upon it. I am involved in outreach events, where I help promote engineering and information technology fields of study to students of all ages. I love mechanical engineering and being able to share this field of academics with other students is extremely gratifying. Engineering is a challenging field of study, especially when you have to overcome gender inequality, but it is also very rewarding, and I embrace the challenge.
The Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) is dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the creation of technology in the engineering and information technology fields. CWIT efforts begin with nurturing a strong group of Scholars, grow to building community resources for other women in these majors, extend to fostering a healthy gender climate and ITE pedagogy in College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) departments, and finally expand into outreach efforts to increase interest in technical careers. A successful program for female-friendly engineering and information technology education at UMBC will help make UMBC a destination for women (and men) interested in technical careers and serve as a national model for other universities.
Learn more about our community at http://www.cwit.umbc.edu/
For more information about Women’s History events and happenings, visit: http://my.umbc.edu/groups/womenscenter/news/24724