Local Engineering Students Planning To ‘Break The Mold’

Local Engineering Students Planning To ‘Break The Mold’

SNOW HILL — The world of engineering isn’t just a boys club, at least not according to three female seniors who are studying the field at the Worcester County Technical High School (WTHS).

“We’re trying to break the mold,” said Dianna Vogel, a Snow Hill High School student who has been involved in WTHS’ pre-engineering program since its inception four years ago.

“It was really some kind of mystical thing,” said Vogel of engineering at first glance.

However, with the support of her parents, Vogel jumped into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and says she is now at home in an incredibly complex environment.

Two of Vogel’s fellow STEM members, Courtney Blumenthal and Rachael Chilengi, both from Stephen Decatur High School, shared Vogel’s support of the program.

“It leads you into your future and towards picking a career,” said Chilengi.

Like Vogel, both Chilengi and Blumenthal began the STEM program during their freshman year, when it was first introduced at the school.

“It’s really competitive,” said Blumenthal.

Besides being competitive on its own, STEM represents a special challenge for girls who are interested in engineering. According to a 2011 article in U.S. News, “only 13.4 percent of engineering professionals are women.” The article bases its statistics on a report from the same year from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME).

Going further back, data listed on the National Academies website shows that in a 19-year span, 1983 to 2002, 248,181 men earned Master’s Degrees in Engineering, while only 48,334 women did the same.

While those statistics are national, Blumenthal revealed that WTHS is also endeavoring to expand the number of females involved in STEM at the local level.

“They’re really working hard to get girls to apply,” she said.

Blumenthal added that WTHS is currently doing much better than the roughly 1:10 national average for women versus men in engineering, with the 20-person program at the school split nearly down the middle: nine girls to 11 boys.

According to Vogel, STEM offers a lot as far as job preparedness and lifelong skills, but should be especially attractive to girls looking for direction or those that may be intimidated at first by what has been for decades a male dominated field.

“It will pretty much help you discover who you are and help you get comfortable in your own skin,” she promised. “You’re not afraid of your own strengths … you learn to stand up for yourself.”  

“I think it’s empowering for girls,” Blumenthal agreed.

On a personal level, Blumenthal said that getting involved in STEM “inspired [her] to take harder classes.”

According to Chilengi, the program has imparted crucial skills that she will take with her to college and later the workforce.

“I like the idea of project management … You learn to document everything you do,” she said.

Vogel inserted that “engineering skills can be used anywhere” and that all three girls plan to pursue the field after high school.

Vogel will be attending Drexel University, where she hopes to emerge with a degree in civil engineering. Blumenthal will head to the University of Maryland-College Park next autumn with an eye on bio-chemical engineering. Chilengi hasn’t yet chosen a specific branch to focus on, but does plan on continuing on in STEM-related fields next year when she begins at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, to which she has a full scholarship.

The girls hope their legacy will continue on with new girls becoming interested in science and engineering and looking into pre-engineering at WTHS. The trio has already tried to make an impression on the next crop of young girls getting ready for high school by visiting them in the classroom.

“It’s a lot of fun going to middle schools,” said Vogel.
“One question that comes up a lot is: Are there girls in here?,” said Blumenthal.

Additionally, both Blumenthal and Vogel have younger sisters that are preparing to enter the WTHS pre-engineering program as freshman next year.

While the year is almost over, the STEM field is still active. Blumenthal and Chilengi will be heading to Kansas City, Mo. June 23-28 to take part in a national Skills USA engineering competition. Earlier this month, Chilengi won first place in Maryland in the Skills USA “Prepared Speech” category.

With her family moving from Africa to the US, Chilengi was faced with a gulf of cultural and educational differences, which she had to face before finding success in pre-engineering and addresses these in her speech.

Blumenthal will be competing and displaying her team’s senior engineering project, which is a more ergonomic classroom chair.

“We actually found that a 120-degree [angle] is better,” noted Blumenthal.
A standard school desk-and-chair is set at a 90-degree angle.