Friday, September 28, 2012

You can do it!

“I became an engineer because everyone told me I couldn’t do it.”

My jaw dropped, and my eyes nearly ejected out of my head. 

“What!?” I said, in disbelief. “They told you what?!” 

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting several bright and interesting female undergrads in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program here at Penn. We had all been brought together as a part of the AWE/SWE mentoring program, and as our conversation evolved through the evening, we began discussing why we had all decided to become engineers. That’s when this exchange happened.

A sophomore in CBE, this student told us that in her native country of Mexico, girls are discouraged from pursuing engineering. People suggested to her that, instead, she should try for a more feminine profession– the example she cited with nursing. She also then proceeded to tell us that when that didn’t work, people started telling her she was much too pretty to be an engineer and that her looks were much more fitting for a career in, say, dancing. 

I was in complete and utter shock. I honestly do not know where I would be today if I hadn’t had the wonderful female role models in the math and sciences to tell me that I could and would go far with my technical abilities. I have no doubt in my mind that I owe at least 50% of my success to those women in my life who believed in me and told me so. And considering I started off in the semi-ghettos of Queens, NY and am now beginning my third year in an engineering PhD program here at Penn with an NSF fellowship and two published scientific papers under my belt… let’s just say I owe them a lot

And hearing what I heard last Thursday night, I might even say that I owe them everything.
With that said, I’d like to take this opportunity to say to every female reading this right now, that you can do it. I know how difficult it can be and how intimidating it feels to be one of the only girls in the room (I was one of two girls in my PhD class of about 12 or 13 people), but I also know that success as a female engineer is possible. And let me tell you, it feels prettyyyy awesome to make it through and be able represent. 

So keep your heads high, ladies - don’t let the numbers or any ridiculous talk intimidate you. You can beat the odds. I did, she did, and so can you. 

Questions for Melissa?  Contact her at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yes, You Can Study Abroad as an Engineer and You Should!

Making life long Aussie friends
Having just come back to Penn from a year studying overseas, I’ve been getting a lot of “Welcome backs!” and “Where have you been?” It’s good to be back at Penn, but it was also great to be a way for a while. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. I spent this past year studying in Australia and had an absolute blast and a half. Not only did I get to experience a new university culture and make new friends from all over the world, I got to travel A LOT. Some highlights of my time in Australia included: watching a kangaroo eat risotto while camping, picking up a lot of weird lingo and pronunciations, taking field trips for classes to weird/disgusting/cool places, and making some lifelong Aussie friends.

Studying in another country is an amazing experience, and I’d love for as many other Penn engineers to take advantage of the opportunity. Many engineers don’t study abroad for a variety of reasons especially the strict requirements of our degree. If you’re worried about requirements, I have a few recommendations to help you get where you’re going:

Me at a rendering plant--where they turn animal waste into usable products-- one of the more disgusting field trips

  1. Don’t be afraid of your requirements! Engineering curriculum is pretty standard the world over and you can likely find classes at other institutions that match up with those at Penn. If you are doing a degree with very specific requirements for each semester, start a dialogue with your professors to see if classes you will be taking abroad will match up with their classes. Professors are more than happy to look over syllabi and give you course recommendations.  
  2.  Talk to upperclassmen about their experiences. Certain places lend themselves to engineering students. Find out where they studied and what classes they were able to take. If there is already a precedent in place, it’s usually much easier to get credit for a class.  
  3.   If you know early on in your Penn career that you want to go abroad (I’m looking at you, freshman) save up free electives and non-engineering electives so that you have more flexibility in what you can take while abroad.
  4. Talk to the folks at Penn Abroad. They are a valuable resource and can help steer you to places where Penn engineers have had success in the past.
  5.  Most importantly immerse yourself in the local culture, meet new people and have fun! This is your opportunity to go somewhere you never thought you would, to try new things, and to break out of the Penn bubble, at least for a semester.

Kangaroos love risotto!
Questions for Annie about study abroad?  Contact her at if you have any questions about studying abroad.

Friday, September 14, 2012

AWE Pre-Orientation Recap: Welcome Class of 2016

Before many of their classmates arrived on campus, 76 of the women in Penn Engineering’s class of 2016 were hard at work and hard at play in Philadelphia. The Fifth Annual Advancing Women in Engineering (AWE) Pre-Orientation commenced on August 27th, 2012 with a warm welcome from Michele Grab, director of AWE, and the 19 volunteers who participated in the program their freshman year and as counselors in past years. In the action-packed three days that followed, Penn’s newest, eager engineers participated in activities around campus and center city Philadelphia, absorbed advice from faculty and students, and bonded with their peers to kick-off their Penn experience.

After the opening ceremonies, as well as indulging in a delicious buffet dinner (following in true AWE style), Penn’s newest engineers teamed up with their peers and put their building skills to work.   The girls were divided into teams and sent on the famous AWE tradition: The AWE Scavenger Hunt. Through a series of puzzles located throughout the engineering buildings, the teams worked together to solve the mystery of who kidnapped a SEAS Professor while also learning their way around SEAS! Who was the culprit? Only the participants know the truth!

After a full day of learning almost 100 names and faces, taking a campus tour, and running throughout the engineering campus solving puzzles, everyone was ready to power up and hit the town. It was time indulge in dinner and dessert, complete with Philadelphia’s Tastykakes and Peanut Chews, before embarking on their first subway ride to Citizens Bank Park for a Phillies game. The weather was picture perfect for exploring the ballpark with new friends and taking in the timeless, classic-Philly atmosphere. Phillies fans new and old went wild when Ryan Howard hit a grand slam in the first inning – something many long time Phillies fans have never seen!

Day two gave the women the opportunity to ask questions and absorb the sage advice from professors Dr. Karen Winey and Dr. Susan Margulies and to embark on their second adventure into center city for a Philadelphia Trolley Tour and lunch at Reading Terminal Market.

On Thursday morning at the closing brunch, the girls were given words of wisdom and send-off advice from Dean Glandt, alumni, and AWE Director Michele. The women of AWE hope to see the participants and all new women engineers of the class of 2016 continue to participate in AWE throughout their Penn experience and maybe even volunteer as a counselor next year! We hope you have new friends, advice and memories to last all four years at Penn – and a lifetime. Thanks for participating and making it both enjoyable and successful!

Questions about pre-orientation?  Contact us at

Friday, September 7, 2012

New Year, New Opportunities

So this week began the start of a brand new school year.  The idea of a new school year can be both exciting and scary.  One thing is for sure the start of a new year always means there is a chance to start fresh and take on new things.  It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or an upperclassmen, the start of a new school year means new opportunities.  Penn offers hundreds of student groups on campus, and it doesn’t matter what year you are in, anyone can join. There are engineering related clubs and things that have nothing to do with engineering and are just for fun.  There will never be a time again where you have the opportunity to choose from such a wide number of groups that are so accessible to you.  Now is the time to get involved.  Personally, I am beginning my fourth and final year here at Penn.  Despite that I only have one year left, there are still so many activities here at Penn that I am hoping to get involved with still and I recommend that you do the same.  

But school is not all about social and extracurricular activities.  I know and everyone here at Penn knows:  Penn is hard work.  However there are some things that you can do to make your semester a bit easier.  My first piece of advice is to make out a schedule for your upcoming semester, include everything you are involved on in that schedule.  This way you always have an easy way to know when you are free and you do not end up double scheduling yourself.  Second, set aside homework and study time.  It is important, especially in engineering where you will get a lot of problem sets to have designated time to do them.  Additionally, talk with your friends in your classes; see if you can coordinate study and homework times so you know you always have someone to do it with to keep you motivated.  Study groups are essential to doing well at Penn.   One last piece of advice is to talk with your professors.  If you have any issues in class, are struggling at all, or just think they are really cool, you should tell them these things.  Professors love to hear from you and want you to come to their office hours, that is why they hold them.  Get over your nerves and approach the professor, you won’t regret it.  I hope everyone has a great semester and don’t forget to get involved with something new this semester! 

Have questions for Elayna?  E-mail her at