The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
During my undergraduate studies at The University of Kansas, I had a variety of extracurricular clubs and activities to choose from, many of them engineering-related. Popular among my female friends was the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE). I, however, wanted to try out a club more related to my specific major, so I went to the first meeting for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It just so happened that IEEE and SWE meetings happened at the same time, so in a room of about 40 people curious about joining IEEE, I was the only woman. Here’s why that wasn’t a bad thing.
Deciding Between Clubs: Substance vs. Demographics
Since IEEE and SWE were at the same time, I had to choose between them. Unlike SWE, IEEE provided me hands-on experience on engineering projects. This gave me the opportunity to apply what I was learning in class to a fun project, such as a remote-controlled boat or a smartwatch. While SWE had guest speakers, and both SWE and IEEE had social events, I thought that the IEEE projects gave me a much-needed resume boost. At the end of the day, don’t worry about the demographics of a club you’re interested in but what you can offer the club and what the club can offer you.
IEEE gave me some leadership experience when I served as an officer for two years. During my junior year, I served as the activities chair officer, where I was in charge of planning social events for the club and events where we collaborated with other clubs. During my senior year, I could not plan events due to the pandemic, so I decided that IEEE needed an Instagram account to promote social events and weekly meetings. This leadership opportunity allowed me to get to know my fellow officers better and gave me more confidence in my ability to lead. Many women starting college may feel intimidated by being the only woman in a club or are worried they will not be respected. During my time as an officer, I always felt respected by my fellow male officers and felt that I was contributing toward the improvement of the club as a whole.
Find a Support System
If you join a club and find that you do not feel respected, there are plenty of other clubs on campus that can boost your resume and help you make friends inside and outside of your major. If you find that you are not feeling like you are welcome in your class, connect with both male and female classmates in your major that you can talk to and work with on homework. You’re going to meet a lot of people from all different walks of life in both college and your career, they can become a great support system for you both inside and outside of work.
I got to know my male classmates better. Lots of women choose to join female-only clubs to make some female friends, but I promise you that your male classmates are also worth knowing. The more classmates you know, the more people you can ask about homework questions, study for an exam with, and make post-graduate connections with when all of you begin your careers. You can also form lasting friendships outside of your engineering classes. It’s always nice to have people to grab lunch with on campus or play video games with after a long day of class and homework.
Be the Representation You Want to See
Be the female role model you want to see in the world. If you wish that a major, course, or club had more female representation, you can be that female representation. You can serve as your own role model, and you can be a role model for younger female students in your major.
The engineering industry might be male-dominated, but I don’t need to be afraid of being the only woman in the room because I know I’m where I belong. Because I am confident in my skills both within and outside of engineering, being the only woman in the room doesn’t scare me. At the end of the day, I am not a female engineer surrounded by male engineers. I’m an engineer, and I’m right where I belong.