U of I electrical engineering students challenge stereotypes about what it means to be an engineer
Alexa Aguilar and Shea Morrison are proving women have impact in engineering.
The electrical engineering majors also are passionate about science and math, deeply involved in undergraduate research projects, and actively working to bust myths about and barriers for women in engineering.
“I think it’s something within our society that we think ‘smart’ must mean old white dude,” Morrison said. “Alexa and I are sorority sisters, we love going out with friends and hanging out. We love math and science too.”
They want other women to follow in their footsteps, which is why they’re involved in the College of Engineering’s Electrical Engineering Ambassador Group. The group travels to middle and high schools to talk to students about engineering. It “humanizes” engineering for students who might otherwise find it intimidating, Aguilar said.
“I want girls especially to know that it’s not out of reach. If you’re good at math and science, and you like it, don’t be afraid. Don’t be intimidated. Just do it. Become an engineer.” Aguilar said.
They also want other women to know that anyone can be an engineer.
“Be different, because that’s what pushes the boundaries and that’s what creates innovation,” Morrison said.
Aguilar and Morrison are active members of their sorority, Delta Delta Delta. They have held leadership roles in the house and say it’s been a huge part of their college experience.
“I think the sorority has made me a more well-rounded person, it’s exposed to me a lot of different schools of thought,” Aguilar said.
When you live in a house there is always someone to talk to and someone to support you,” Morrison said. “There is a difference between sisterhood and friendship, and these women are my sisters.”
Outside of the sorority, Aguilar can usually be found outside. She grew up in Nampa with the entire outdoors as her playground.
“I love to ski. Growing up in the Treasure Valley, you’re spoiled having Bogus Basin in your background.” she said.
As for Morrison, who grew up in Boise, she loves concerts and listening to punk rock music.
“I’m 5 feet, and I don’t look like the type of person who would like punk rock concerts, but it’s a huge outlet for me. I always have headphones on and it’s a way to relax and unwind,” she said.
You’ll also usually find the two working on their research projects in the newly Integrated Research and Innovation Center, or IRIC. Aguilar is part of a team pursuing research in harvesting radio frequency signals, such as wireless internet, in efforts to convert electromagnetic energy back into usable electricity.
“There is nothing in the world like understanding something from a scientific standpoint,” she said.
Morrison is part of the Flywheel energy storage system team, which received a grant from NASA to create an environmentally friendly energy storage system.
Both women say they’ve always been good at math and science and U of I’s engineering program was the perfect fit.
The other perfect fit was joining a sorority and having a typical college experience outside of the lab.
“College has been everything and more than I expected,” Morrison said. “I had to take other classes besides engineering, so I got to know other students that I wouldn’t have met if I’d only been required to take engineering classes.”
There’s one more perk of getting an engineering degree: a well-paying job.
Aguilar plans to go onto graduate school at MIT in the fall, and Morrison will be moving to Boise, where she already has a job lined up with Micron.
“I get to have a career I want to have, and that’s exciting,” Morrison said.
Article by Gemma Gaudette, University of Idaho