College of Engineering progresses in diversity


By Jenny Horne

Engineering at the University is renowned around the country. In fact, according to U.S. News, the College of Engineering is one of the most prestigious in the nation, ranking fifth in the nation for undergraduate engineering. However, some Illinois students feel as though the undergraduate population in the College is one-sided.

Catherine Ernst, junior in Engineering, said that her classes are predominately male.

“Typically I’m the only girl in my group projects and stuff like that,” Ernst said. “It’s sad because sometimes I do really feel like an outcast in my major.”

Ernst said that this frequently discourages her in her studies.

“I have gotten the feeling from people that they don’t think I’m as smart as them … and I’ve had males in my classes tell me that they don’t want me as their partner because I’m not as smart as them,” Ernst said. “And I know it’s because I’m a female.”

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Aerospace engineering professor Victoria Coverstone said that she shared a similar experience to Ernst while she was attending the University as an undergrad and then pursuing a career as a professor in the field.

“There were a lot of slices and hurtful comments along the way … And then when I took the job of working here, there was a lot of pushback because I was the first woman in the department,” Coverstone said. “There were people who didn’t want me here because it was different— it was changed. And a lot of times, people don’t like change.”

However, Coverstone says that she believes this is because there is a lack of awareness of what S.T.E.M. jobs truly are. Being from a small town, she said she had no idea herself what engineering was before she arrived at the University.

Coverstone said she switched from a computer science and math major to an aerospace engineering major after a canoe trip she took with an all-boy dorm, where they discussed engineering and it piqued her interest.

“The more I found out about it, the more excited I got, so I transferred over,” she said. “It’s really my passion for the series ‘Star Trek,’ and like I said, I wanted to be an astronaut.”

Despite some of the discrimination Coverstone received being the only female engineer in her aerospace classes, she said she looks back on her experience with a positive attitude — joking that being one of the only women is actually how she met her husband.

Coverstone also said that she feels as though the University and the College of Engineering is more diverse now than it has ever been.

“I think that we’re setting up awareness that these fields exist. I think that diversity not only means female and male, now we’re bringing in international students,” Coverstone said. “When I went here, it was almost entirely Illinois students and a few out-of-state students. The way we’re moving is in a really positive direction.”

Bryan Schley, senior in Engineering, said that from a male engineering perspective, he feels that sometimes female engineers actually have the upper hand.

“I think it’s almost an advantage sometimes, a lot of people are looking for the diversity now, so if you’re a girl it’s almost an advantage because it’s mostly males coming out of engineering majors,” Schley said.

As the University strives to diversify its engineering programs and the entire campus in general, Coverstone said she hopes to continue to see this type of progress in the younger generations of women.

“I did not start off wanting to be an engineer, I came here and learned about what engineering is,” she said. “And that’s why I think it’s important for us to reach out to high schools and help young ladies learn what their options are.”

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