The disproportionate number of male to female students at Georgia Tech may long have drawn attention to itself – despite the fact that the Institute has established itself as the No. 1 producer of female engineers in the United States. In reality, though, those female engineers have been drawing significant attention of their own.
If the advances of undergraduate Jamie Clark, recent alumna Melissa McCoy, and faculty member Karen Feigh offer just a glimpse into what Georgia Tech’s women in engineering are capable of accomplishing – in what’s been a traditionally male-dominated field – the female face of engineering, at Tech and beyond, is set to take on a whole new look.
Jamie Clark at Portugués Dam - Puerto Rico.
It’s engineering’s “influence in every part of society” that was the draw for Jamie Clark.
“I love that engineers have a hand in almost everything we use in society – from the buildings in which we work and live, to the cars we drive, to the clothes we wear, and the food that we eat,” said the civil engineering major.
Of course, the fact that she was raised in an engineering household may have had a little something to do with her chosen path.
“My parents are Georgia Tech alumni, and they made it a point to make sure I was being educated in a way that allowed me to think both critically and creatively,” Clark said. “The experiences they provided for me allowed me to love engineering even before I truly knew what engineering was.”
Clark, who has always been interested in architecture, history, and world cultures, says that through civil engineering, she can learn the technical aspects involved in creating the architecture that’s always fascinated her. Then there’s always that civil engineering bonus – the one that offers opportunities for travel and humanitarian work.
“I would love to travel to developing countries and help build community housing in a sustainable and efficient manner,” said Clark. “I am particularly interested in countries with limited natural resources.”
Clark wants to explore how these countries can create safer living conditions using only their limited resources – without importing expensive materials their governments cannot afford.
Since enrolling at Tech, Clark has had the opportunity to travel for research purposes. Her involvement in the Structures Group of the Caribbean Hazards Assessment Mitigation and Preparedness (CHAMP) Project took her to Belize and Puerto Rico, where she and her colleagues examined limiting the effects of natural disasters in Caribbean countries.
At home, she’s been fortunate to get two summer internships under her belt already – both with Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., one of the country's premier design consulting firms.
“Through my internships, I learned a good deal about the applications of traffic engineering and signal design,” she said.
Currently, Clark is an undergraduate research assistant for the Limestone Cement Project. This project explores the effects of increasing limestone in standard cements. Adding more limestone would create a more environmentally friendly product and lower the manufacturing cost of cement; however, the addition of limestone could also have negative effects on the cement’s performance.
Jamie Clark at Altun Ruins - Belize.
“In the lab, we want to find the amount of limestone that can be added before the performance of the cement is compromised – with the goal of creating a material that is safe, efficient, more environmentally friendly, and more cost-effective,” Clark explained.
The project is being conducted in the laboratory of Kimberly Kurtis, one of the female associate professors in Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“I think many people believe that because less than 30 percent of engineering students at this school are female that women feel alienated from the rest of the male-dominated campus, but this is the exact opposite of what I have experienced,” Clark says. “Women have so much support here whether it is through the official campus programs and offices such as Women in Engineering and the Women’s Resource Center, or student organizations like the Society of Women Engineers. People want to see us succeed.
“They are eager for the classic stereotype of men sporting pocket protractors to change into a more accurate reflection of the diverse group of individuals that are today’s top engineering professionals,” she continued. “I have been privileged enough to have met many role models — women engineers in academia and industry – who are successful, innovative thinkers, but who are also relatable and friendly.”
Because her experience in her chosen field of study has been so positive and her time at Tech has been so promising, Clark is eager to encourage others to follow in her footsteps. In fact, as a member of Tech’s Women in Engineering (WIE) Program, she participates in an initiative in which female engineers from Tech visit schools in the Atlanta area to teach children and young adults about engineering and to inspire them to learn more about different engineering fields.
So what does Clark have to say to those girls and young women who may be hesitant about pursuing engineering because of its reputation as being male-dominated?
“To engineer a better society, we need people of different genders, races, and backgrounds solving our problems; therefore, to all those young women who may feel hesitant about entering this world in which we are the minority, I would say that the field of engineering will only be a male-dominated one as long as we allow it to be so. Start crossing those boundaries and maybe you can inspire others like you to do the same.”
In her almost four years at Tech, Jamie Clark has been involved in organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, and the Georgia Power Mentorship Program, in addition to being a WIE ambassador. She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in civil engineering, as well.
To view more photos of Jamie's travels along with features on Melissa McCoy and Karen Feigh, click over the Georgia Tech News Center.
See You at Tech
Georgia Tech continues outreach to attract women to STEM fields.
Writers: Brigitte Espinet, Kathleen Moore
Photos provided by: Jamie Clark, Melissa McCoy, Karen Feigh
Videos: Georgia Tech College of Engineering