LMU Celebrates STEM Diversity with #ILookLikeAnEngineer

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From the architecture surrounding us to the appliances at our fingertips, engineered designs affect every facet of modern life. But what perspectives are missed when such significant and influential fields are unrepresentative of the population they serve?

According to a 2013 U.S. Census report, women “remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computer occupations, occupations that make up more than 80 percent of all STEM employment.” Furthermore, despite making up 26 percent of the American workforce in 2011, black and Hispanic workers filled only 6 percent and 7 percent of STEM positions, respectively.

One way Loyola Marymount University strives to change those statistics is through its annual K-12 engineering day event, “#ILookLikeAnEngineer.” April 15 marked the student-led event’s third anniversary. It was hosted at St. Robert’s auditorium and lawn by LMU’s National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers and Engineering for Humanity.

“This is an event I look forward to every year,” said senior civil engineering major and NSBE president Taylor Mercado, who organized the event. “I’m very passionate about education, but I grew up in an area without a lot of STEM programs. I wish I had more of those. Now I’m interested in giving back since I have the opportunity to do so.”

Barbara Marino, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, returned from sabbatical to talk about her work with SWE and the many student engineers she’s seen go on to work in cutting-edge industries.

“It never ceases to amaze me when people are surprised that I’m an engineer,” said Marino. Her husband teaches writing at USC, and she says too often people are surprised when they hear she’s the engineer and he’s the writer.

Gender roles and racial stereotypes, however changing, still leave their marks. But they haven’t stopped Marino, or the diverse set of students she’s mentored throughout the years. Their many talents keep them working both in and outside the field of engineering, such as the musician at Intel, or the dancer at Spotify. One of her recent students is prepping for graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, while another is returning from an internship in Paris.

Janelle Scales, a community member and part-time homeschool teacher, brought her two daughters, ages 6 and 8, to learn about engineering and see the diversity in STEM education.

“I have relatives who are scientists and I was a biology major at Long Beach State,” said Scales. “So I guess you could say I’m interested in maintaining the ‘science legacy’ in my family.”

Her daughters attend a charter school part-time and receive the balance of their education at home. Scales said the charter school is great, but it doesn’t have a heavy focus on STEM education. So events like #ILookLikeAnEngineer are useful for introducing her young daughters to science.

The event consisted of a panel discussion, nine hands-on activities demonstrating engineering principles led by engineering students, student project demonstrations and photo opportunities.