A woman speaking at a lectern with three people sitting beside her.

Sunshine state to snowy plains

CSE student wants to open STEM doors for more women

Minnesota winters don’t bother Allison Chang. In fact, the electrical engineering senior, who was raised in California and Hawaii, frolics outside when the sun is bright and snow is on the ground. “The cold doesn’t really bother me,” she said.

“The air reminds me of mountain air, and I really like that. It actually feels great to experience changing seasons. Except for the occasional thin sweater, I only had summer clothes before.”

Chang has also grown fond of the people she’s met in the Midwest.

Over the past three years, she’s connected with supportive professors in her department and other young women across the college.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter and the 3M-sponsored SWEekend on the Twin Cities campus were her first face-to-face introduction to CSE. The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Living and Learning Community was her first home away from home.

“I toured other schools, but I just felt like the personality of everyone I met matched mine,” explained Chang, a recipient of CSE’s Skaar Family Scholarship and Boeing Scholarship.

“I felt like I could really fit in the community here,” she said

Chang, who credits her high school biology teacher, Nicoline Chambers, for inspiring her to pursue engineering, made more friends by joining the IEEE Women in Engineering student organization. As co-president last year, her responsibilities included planning career development events and organizing STEM outreach activities to engage youth. This year, she serves as the group’s membership coordinator.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the IEEE members from gathering.

Regular Zoom meetings, texting, and FaceTime bring them together.  In April, for instance, a month after the University sent students home, Chang led a Zoom event with Brooksource on how to find and interview with companies that are still hiring for online summer internships.

“Being part of IEEE really helps me build my leadership skills on top of connecting with other women,” she said. “I’m really interested in leadership and getting an MBA in my future because one of the biggest problems I’m seeing right now is the lack of engineers and scientists in politics. Engineers and scientists need to have a seat at the table.”

Three women students sitting at a table, with the IEEE logo behind them.
Electrical engineering students (from left to right) Kate Fernandez, Melissa Linville, and Allison Chang.

Another significant concern on her mind—the lack of women in the field.

“I’m really passionate about building a community of engineers, and electrical engineers in particular, because the numbers are still not equitable,” she said.

According to the National Science Foundation, women’s share of bachelor’s level engineering degrees has only increased from 18 to 21 percent over the past two decades.

“When I told my mom I wanted to be an engineer, she expressed concern that although I may be capable, working in a male-dominated field may cause unneeded stress,” Chang recalled. “She was afraid that I would be taken less seriously than my peers and would have to fight an unnecessary battle. Gladly, I have been met, mostly, with only positive experiences. However, I don’t want other women to ever think that there is a position in the world that they are incapable of holding. It has been proven that more diverse teams find more creative solutions.”

Engineering, after all, Chang noted, is about problem solving.

“When we bring women, people of color, and other minorities into STEM fields, we only get better,” she said.

“All engineers should be judged by their passion for problem-solving, their work ethic, and their ability to work in a team and not by their gender, color of their skin, or sexual orientation,” Chang added.

Upon graduation this May, Chang will join Medtronic. She landed a full-time position among the first cohort of its Technical Leadership Rotational Program while completing a three-month virtual internship in summer 2020.

“It was an offer I could not refuse,” she said. “I am going to be traveling to a new team every nine months for two years to build up my network and to learn how many of the company’s businesses work. The goal is to help speed up my path to leadership positions and develop my leadership skills through private and group training along the way.”

Read more stories from our Winter 2021 college magazine at cse.umn.edu/InventingTomorrow.

By Pauline Oo

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