Recognizing importance of women engineers’ perspectives on #InternationalWomeninEngineeringDay

By Donna Boen ’83, MTSC ’96, MIAMIAN Editor

Engineering needs more women as the profession grapples with such global challenges as climate change and diagnoses of diseases, says Beena Sukumaran, Miami University’s dean for the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC).

With June 23 being International Women in Engineering Day, an annual event that celebrates their achievements in the field, the dean sees this as an opportune time to highlight the valuable and diverse perspectives women and people of color bring to the profession.

The design could be as simple as where a seatbelt or steering wheel is located, she says, pointing out that the end product has a life-or-death impact.

“If you don’t have women at the table, the design might not take into account some of factors that you should be taking into account because you might be built differently.”

Always a minority in engineering

Beena Sukumaran understands all too well what it’s like to be one of the few women at the table. She is the first woman dean of Miami’s CEC, starting last Aug. 1 in the midst of the pandemic. She came from Rowan University where she was vice president for research.

Her interest in the field started early. As a third-grader, she shadowed her dad, an engineering assistant in Malaysia, following him in his office and on construction sites.

She came to the United States to earn a master’s and doctorate and then worked in the industry. After a few years, she transitioned into academia because she felt a huge responsibility to support and bring more women into the profession.

The national average for women studying in the engineering classroom is about 21 percent. That number drops to 14% when counting women in the profession.

“So we’re always a minority,” Sukumaran says.

Want to see positive societal impact

When the dean interviewed at Miami, she was impressed by the college’s emphasis on socially engaged engineering and computing. Research has proven that if you can show the societal connection of engineering and computing, you will draw in more women and people of color, Sukumaran says.

“They want to see that connection,” says the dean who would love student percentages in the college to be 50-50 one day. “They want to know that whatever they’re doing has a positive impact on society. It’s a lucrative profession and one that has the ability to impact hundreds of thousands of people with its designs.”

“Lots of the challenges that the globe faces right now, like climate change, even thinking about better medicines, better diagnoses of diseases, all that relies on engineering technology, so you have the ability to steer the world.”

Visit Miami University’s College of Engineering and Computing for more information.

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