The engineering workforce is made up of 15.9% women, and of that percentage, women of color comprise less than 6%. For years, it has been difficult to make way for Black women in male-dominated fields. Though there are so many young girls who dream about going into careers such as engineering, they are often steered away when told by males in the field that they would not be good enough or comprehend how to do it.
To uplift those young women, three students at the University of Cincinnati (UC) started the Association of Women of Color in Engineering (AWOCE) for women of color to feel a sense of belonging and be included in the engineering community and continue following their goals and dreams.
AWOCE was founded by current student Ashley Kirby and former students Priya Moncho and Jeanette Cooten Sound. Collectively, they felt the campus was missing a key piece for women of color to have a safe space to be able to talk about their experiences and empower each other. There were already different groups trying to fulfill this vision, but some fail to raise awareness for women of color and prevent their feelings of loneliness among other engineers. So AWOCE created an inclusive environment for members to build relationships with others going through similar experiences and express their ambitions of being an engineer.
“Engineering is already a job that people stray away from because of how intense it is, then you’re a person of color, and also a woman,” said Ashley Kirby, president of the club and a fifth-year mechanical engineering student. “So, with that, we often describe women of color in engineering as a minority of a minority of a minority.”
It is very common for individuals, especially women of color, to be discouraged from a job or passion of theirs because they feel it is not where they belong, or that they are not good enough. Sometimes, people have the mentality that they are unworthy, or would not add value to the engineering field.
“So, the importance of having these types of groups when we can inspire each other and recognize that we are all here for a specific reason,” Kirby said. AWOCE eliminates the feeling of discouragement and lets people know they have a purpose.
AWOCE often hosts volunteering opportunities and panels for guest speakers that come in to share their experiences, and how to overcome the obstacles of being a woman of color in the engineering community. These panels help students understand how to persevere through the hard work to accomplish what they set their minds to.
Students involved in AWOCE enjoy the close-knit relationships they have built with other members. “One of the best things is that we can just text in our group chat about going out to eat or hanging out to let things off our chest, and have venting sessions to just talk,” Kirby said.
This organization also provides a haven for women of color to not only discuss any social difficulties among the engineering community but also academic ones. “With full course loads and challenging classes, it is nice to have a support group to rely on,” said Ardeena Ahmed, a third-year biomedical engineering student.
AWOCE looks to expand to other universities for those women of color engineering students to benefit from as well. “My best friend is also an engineering student at another university, and I pitched the idea to her to start an organization like this because I know it can inspire many great engineers with so much ambition to keep pursuing their passion,” Kirby said.
One of AWOCE’s goals is to continue to expand and reach as many students as possible for them to thrive. Members want to be valued as their authentic selves, empowering them to fully use their strengths, innovate in their field and champion others.
“I just hope that we continue to grow and more members, especially incoming freshmen, join AWOCE,” Ahmed said. “To have a close network of peers to support them through their early engineering career is valuable, and I believe there is a lot to learn from others in the club about classes, co-ops, opportunities, or even just advice.”