Women engineer equal futures

SWE at its Dinner With Industry event on March 14. Photos courtesy of SWE

By Gunnhildur Baldursdottir / The Jambar

Students in Youngstown State University’s Society of Women Engineers are hopeful about starting their careers in engineering, an industry becoming more receptive to diversity and inclusion.

According to the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report, women represent 29.2% of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce in the 146 nations evaluated.

Janelle Pezzuti, a junior chemical engineering major and secretary of SWE, said the organization provides a safe space for women to create friendships, find networking opportunities and discuss difficulties they face in their fields.

“It’s a great organization to join if you want to connect with other people and serve the community because we have volunteer and career professional development opportunities,” Pezzuti said. “It’s also good to enhance those social skills because we don’t talk about it much in classes since it’s so technical, but you really need those soft skills to be successful.”

Pezzuti at the Silly Science Sunday event in 2023. Photos courtesy of SWE

SWE has around 45 members and welcomes allies interested in volunteer opportunities, attending SWE events or participating in the monthly meetings.

Senior engineering lecturer Kelsey Lyda was one of the founding members of SWE during her undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at YSU.

“We didn’t actually have enough women in the building to start an SWE group, so we convinced a big group of guys to join and ended up having about 40% males, but that’s how we started,” Lyda said.

Lyda said despite some faculty members’ biases against women in STEM, she had a good experience as a YSU student. Lyda added during her early career, she often felt uncomfortable in her work environment and experienced adversity when she got pregnant.

“I worked in materials research, I was actually the only woman in my research group, but I never saw issues until I got pregnant. All of a sudden, very traditional values seemed to seep out of everyone. I couldn’t deal with a lot of the comments. So, I ended up leaving the industry after having my first child,” Lyda said. “They also didn’t even have a maternity leave policy. They treated maternity leave as a short-term disability leave.”

Now, 20 years later, Pezzuti said her recent work experiences have been positive.

Both Pezzuti and Elena Zandier, a junior civil engineering major and the vice president of SWE, have joined women’s organizations while interning, which Zandier said provided them with support and opportunities to network.

“During the interview process, I didn’t have any hesitations. [The staff was] very welcoming. Even when I got to the office, it was very interesting to see how diverse it was and how many women worked there. I think we were 50-50 women to men, and it was just a really empowering experience. So, I guess providing a safe space helps a lot,” Zandier said.

Zandier interned with Alfred Bennish in Pittsburgh during summer 2023.

Pezzuti said young women considering a degree in engineering should never give up.

“If you enjoy challenges and problem solving, you should stick with it and not let whatever difficulties you might face put you down,” Pezzuti said. “There are times when you’re pursuing an engineering degree where you feel like giving up, but getting an internship and seeing even just a glimpse of what it will look like after you graduate is so worth it.”

To encourage young girls interested in STEM, SWE will host The Girl Scout Outreach on April 14.

Zandier said the six-hour event is important for young girls who lack role models that represent them.

“It’s going to be really fun working with the younger kids, hearing about their passions, and see if we can feed into those passions,” Zandier said. “Some of them don’t have role models. So hopefully, we can help them understand that there are other people in this situation, and they should definitely pursue engineering if it’s something they love.”

Zandier added the event is rewarding for anyone who would like to volunteer at The Girl Scout Outreach.

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