Support for Women in Engineering

By Steve Robbins


Steve Robbins, Desktop EngineeringIn April I attended the Additive Manufacturing Users Group Conference in Costa Mesa, CA. It was my first time at the event, and I was pleasantly struck by the enthusiasm of the attendees and vendors. This was definitely a “user” event. Everyone I talked with was responsible for the operation and/or maintenance of 3D printing, prototyping, or manufacturing equipment. I attended sessions on everything from building tools for sheet metal stamping to cleaning lasers. I even had the chance to talk at length with Zehavit Reisin of Objet about the simulation of materials.

I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Pam Waterman, a well-known DE contributing editor. She started with DE in 1997 covering engineering software. Pam has been writing on technical subjects most of her engineering career. At dinner, we talked about how she became a technical writer, her background as an engineer and, especially, of her 23-year-old daughter Hilary who recently graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. In Pam’s early years as an engineer, she worked as a part-time coordinator for Women in Engineering Programs at Oklahoma State University. We discussed the challenges that she and her daughter face in pursuing an engineering career path.

A Winning Woman in Engineering

Our conversation was still on my mind the next morning. I was off for my 6:35 flight to San Francisco to be on hand for the delivery and setup of a Stratasys uPrint SE 3D Print Pack to Maegan Spencer, the winner in Desktop Engineering’s Rapid Ready Sweepstakes. When I arrived at Avinger, the company where Maegan works, I could tell they were in the startup phase. The energy level was through the roof. Meeting Maegan, its senior R&D engineer, only cemented my belief that the company was on course for accomplishing great things. Avinger is developing the next generation of catheter-based treatment for peripheral artery disease (PAD).

As we walked through the building, I noticed a Stratasys Dimension 3D printer in use. Maegan said it ran 24 hours a day. The engineers were using it for everything from printing custom Dremel tools to designing prototype catheter handles.

One of the first questions Maegan asked me as we unpacked the uPrint was “How many women registered for the sweepstakes?” I hazarded a guess of about 10% to 15%. It reminded me of my conversation with Pam. Engineering has been dominated by men, yet here was Maegan, designing a catheter about 2mm wide that can detect the arterial wall using optical coherence tomography, and helping to save peoples’ legs and lives.

Continuing the Conversation

After returning to the office here in Dublin, NH, I wrote Pam and asked her what she and her daughter Hilary thought were the greatest challenges to young women pursuing an education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“High schools have made great strides over the past few decades in getting young women to take advanced math and science classes that qualify them for STEM majors in college,” she replied. “However, ultimately, the problem is the lack of practical support systems.”

Hilary agreed, writing “One of the most discouraging things is that girls in high school and college have almost no support outside of the classroomespecially when you get to the higher levels. That’s because people who actually understand STEM don’t become tutors, they go get jobs as scientists and engineers that will pay them much, much more money.”

One organization helping to change that is the Society of Women Engineers. Its mission is to “stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life and demonstrate the value of diversity.”

While SWE has been making great strides via scholarships, mentoring and outreach since it was founded in 1950, there is still a long way to go. When I asked how we could make STEM more appealing to young women, Pam suggested expanding some of the after-school technical competitions to build designs other than cars and robots. “Also, TV shows featuring female engineers with outside lives and non-geek clothing would help,” she wrote.

Hilary was on the same track: “I think the most important things are to provide the necessary support and also convince women that they can go into a STEM field and still have a life.”

There are many issues facing young adults interested in pursuing STEM. I think we should help them. This publication reaches more than 60,000 individuals who could help increase the rates of women becoming scientists and engineers. Are you willing to help? I would like to hear your ideas.

Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to

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