On Being Female at IIT

I never thought that I would study engineering. I can actually remember telling friends in high school that engineering would be the last thing I would major in. Fast forward two years later and here I am, studying mechanical engineering at Illinois Tech.

I also never thought that I would have more than the obvious to say about being female. I never felt that gender made a difference in the friends that I had, the decisions I made, or the decisions other people made about me. I only began to think about gender when I began my engineering degree at IIT.

As you may know, IIT’s student body is roughly 70% male and 30% female. Guys hear this and worry about finding cute girls. Girls hear this and get excited to have their choice of guys. Maybe others think differently when they encounter a skewed gender balance like this, but those thoughts are what first came to my mind.

What I’ve learned as an IIT student is that gender is much more than a biological binary only relevant to your love life. Although gender equality has been legally ensured for over 40 years, women are still dealing with a fading legacy of discrimination. We are not barred from pursuing anything, but we often are not exposed to fields (tech particularly) with fewer women.

Because IIT is a tech school, the women here go against the grain. I know that by the time I get to my last year here, there will be very few girls left in my mechanical classes. I haven’t had any female teachers for major classes. I really hope that the company I work for after graduation has female engineers on the team. As my education and career continue, I am more and more likely to be the only woman in the room. It takes a little extra strength and courage to be the odd (wo)man out, but I’ve never felt alone thus far.

For this, I have IIT to thank. The women who study here are smart, studious, and unafraid of following their passions. There are so many female student leaders on campus. Our SGA president has been female for as long as most can remember. The executive boards of most student organizations have a majority of female members. Our three sororities on campus are very active in Greek Council, the governing body of Greek life at IIT. Our female student athletes kick butt on and off the field. If you meet a girl from IIT, it’s likely that she’s doing big things. It’s easy to make friends with girls here; we’re always excited to talk to new girls and we want you to be our lab partner. We all have school in common, a strong connection that leads to lasting friendships.

One of my favorite organizations on campus is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). They have bi-weekly meetings to talk about leadership and engineering with other women. It’s a supportive environment, a great place to meet girls with similar interests, and a lot of fun. If you’re a national member, there’s a national conference that you can attend yearly. It’s a great place to network with other female students and women in industry. SWE also posts career opportunities for women in engineering and computer science on their website.

I do think about being female as an IIT student, more than I ever have before. However, as a woman pursuing a career in engineering (a 20% female field), I think that IIT is giving me so much. I am building strong friendships with women I have a lot in common with. I’m finding ways to feel supported by connecting with girls outside of my classes. I see my female classmates scoring amazing jobs and internships in tech and then excelling on the job. I feel focused here and I feel like everyone, staff or student, male or female, wants me to succeed. If anything, being female at IIT is empowering, fun, and a positive experience.

 

So to anyone who is concerned about the gender ratio at IIT:

Girls—There’s less of us, but you’re making an amazing choice for your future. You will never feel alone here.

Girl-Seekers—There may not be quantity, but there’s definitely quality. How many people can say that their girlfriend is beautiful, sweet… and an engineer? If you’re still worried: It’s Chicago! If you can’t find who you’re looking for somewhere in this city, you may not find her anywhere.

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