Female engineering students overcome prejudices

Engineering teacher leads female engineering students in overcoming lack of women in the field

By Kansas Gibler

In a field dominated by males, three female students have disproved gender stereotypes.

Seniors Ashley Hutton, AnnaKate Kleiböhmer and Laura Neilsen who are in Charlie Lauts’ engineering classes have challenged the gender gap in their field and will continue to do so in college. These students have ambitiously taken hold of the field, succeeding in work that they see as their personal strengths.

“When you’re successful in something or you beat a guy, it feels good to know that you were able to,” Hutton said.

However, Kleiböhmer never regarded her work as an equality issue.

“[Engineering] is just what I’m interested in,” Kleiböhmer said. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, boys do it, let me see if I could do it.’ It was an interest that I had, and as far as male-dominated professions go, I think that things are changing. It’s more open and people are encouraged to do what they want instead of by the historical significance of gendered careers.”

In 2008, The National Science Foundation found that 41 percent of freshman men in college planned to major in science and engineering, while only 30 percent of women planned to major in science and engineering.

Neilsen believes that females are becoming increasingly involved in the field.

“There’s a growing acceptance, there is a society of women engineers,” Neilsen said. “Having Mrs. Lauts teach the engineering classes shows that there are more women going into this field.”

Not only have they gone out for the classes, they have shined in competitions.

The students are most proud of their work at the competition at Pittsburg State University, where Kleiböhmer received first place in the balsa tower competition as well as the bridge competition.

Neilsen had initially received first place in the Kinects toys amusement park; however, while the team asked for approval when veering from the main idea, the judges ultimately revoked their first place spot.

The students didn’t enroll in engineering classes to prove others wrong, each had her own interests and reasons.
“My dad is an engineer so I was drawn to it, but I also really enjoy math and science,” Neilsen said.

Even with family influences, the students received guidance from Lauts.

“In my classes my goal is not to make a specific kind of engineer, my goal is to teach them how to problem solve,” Lauts said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of engineer they’re going to be, the process from beginning to end is the same set of steps and processes. With Ashley going into computer engineering versus Laura going in civil engineering and AnnaKate in architectural engineering, at least now I’ve helped them understand the whole process from brainstorming to the end product.”

Neilsen and Kleiböhmer will continue engineering education at Kansas State University, and Hutton will be studying computer programming and engineering at the University of Kansas.

“Right now engineering is a booming career and to be a woman in that career, especially as intelligent as all three of them are, their job prospects after college should be pretty high,” Lauts said. “Knowing their character and how hard-working they are, I can’t imagine that they won’t all have a job before they graduate. All they’ll have to do is graduate and those jobs will be waiting for them.”