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Terp Women Expand Opportunities for Engineering Students

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Terp Women Expand Opportunities for Engineering Students

Photo by Al Santos
Photo by Al Santos

University of Maryland (UMD) junior Wing-Mei Ko believes in getting involved. So when she discovered opportunities to amplify the civil and environmental engineering curriculum with hands-on activities, she grabbed at the chance.

Through mix days, design workshops, a new training manual for the university’s Concrete Canoe Mix Team, and more, Ko is enabling students to extend and apply what they learn in class.

Many of these same activities, along with participation in industry events and local professional chapter meetings, are also what helped the University of Maryland Chapter of the American Concrete Institute earn Outstanding University status for UMD earlier this year. Ko, who plans to pursue a career in stormwater, wastewater, and solid waste management, took over leadership of the group in 2016 after founders Danielle Neumeister and Demetra Tzamaras graduated.

Ko’s path is far from unusual in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). In fact, roughly 30 percent of the leadership positions in student groups affiliated with the department are currently held by women.

And while their organizations and responsibilities vary, their objective is the same: usher engineering Terps to new heights.

For Yeming Hao, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America and Institute of Transportation Engineers University of Maryland Student Chapter, this advancement starts with establishing ties with groups beyond classroom walls.

“I want to help build more connections between academia and industry—we students need more opportunities to know what is going on outside campus,” said Hao, a third-year graduate school student in transportation engineering. “Our student chapter has now successfully held several seminars and social events with the National Transportation Center and industry organizations. Seeing so many students, professionals, and faculty members attend and enjoy our events is very rewarding.”

CEE students also enjoy expanded professional development opportunities thanks to the innovation and hard work of past and present female leaders of the University of Maryland Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE Maryland).

In its third year, Suit Up and Be Civil enabled over 160 students to hear from and network with roughly 150 professionals representing 47 companies from the D.C. metro area. The event began in 2015 as the brainchild of past-president Tess Niehoff. But Brianna Murphy, a CEE and actuarial mathematics student, expanded both its reach and impact in 2017.

“Having worked in the real world, I knew the importance of exposing undergraduates to networking situations,” said Murphy, who worked in international insurance for four years before returning to UMD to complete her degree. “When I first attended Suit Up, I was really impressed by how unique it is to have an event entirely run by students that offers real opportunities to network. And I saw potential to take it even further.”

Fellow ASCE Maryland member Nathalia Henriquez has also set her sights on propelling the group further in 2017. For the first time in over a decade, UMD will host the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Conference, which will pit student teams from 16 schools against one another to see who can build the best concrete canoe, construct the strongest steel bridge, and stand up the best geowall.

Terps have consistently ranked high at this annual event, but Henriquez and ASCE Maryland President Katie Edwards saw an opportunity to encourage even more participation and leave a bigger mark on the region.

“Being actively involved in a community is an ideal my parents instilled in me growing up. I started off as a member of concrete canoe, then joined the concrete canoe executive board, and finally wanted to give back in the most ultimate way I knew,” said Henriquez, ASCE Maryland’s vice president of operations and a member of the Chi Epsilon honor society executive board. “It's not easy to balance school and organizing a conference, but I'm glad to be doing this for our student body and civil engineering.”

Edwards—whose interest in engineering was first sparked by the WIE DREAM Conference and later amplified by the Flexus learning community—said her passion to carry ASCE Maryland to its full potential can be traced back to her early days as a member.

“I saw an opportunity to give back to the student organization I had enjoyed so much,” she explained. “I’ve seen what we’ve tried and what we haven’t tried, and I thought I was in a unique position to take on more leadership in the group to improve our operations and our long-term vision for how we want to grow as a chapter.”

Under her leadership, ASCE Maryland has seen a 66 percent increase in group members, a 23 percent rise in underclassmen memberships, and expanded opportunities to gain leadership experience by serving on committees. Edwards is also starting a formal student mentoring program that will pair underclassmen participants with junior and senior CEE students.

“I know from personal experience that these connections are invaluable,” she said.

Edwards, Ko, Murphy, and Henriquez agree that their efforts have been strongly influenced by the female student leaders who came before them.

“Over these last few years, there has been a lot of strong female representation and presence in civil,” said Henriquez.

And they hope themselves to empower future cohorts of female engineers—a desire that spurred Ko, along with mechanical engineering student Haroula Tzamaras, to launch a student group aimed at giving women more opportunities to develop leadership skills. Women in Engineering Leadership Development, part of the A. James Clark School of Engineering Women in Engineering Program, will hold its first information session later this month.  

“It is important for women in engineering to develop strong leadership skills to break the mindset that women are somehow less capable,” said Ko.

The student leaders also have critical advice for women entering the field: don’t hesitate to take advantage of the resources available to you and never let yourself or others convince you that you can’t do something.  

“If you go to a class, club, or anything else and you initially feel underqualified or scared—good!” emphasized Murphy. “If you go in knowing everything, you’ll never learn anything. Learn to be comfortable with a healthy fear.

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March 22, 2017


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