Editor’s note: This summer, we are lucky to work with extremely talented and inspiring students. Elizabeth Rodriguez got to know The Watershed Project through her engineering class at UC Berkeley, where she worked with her fellow classmates on creating curriculum that will introduce high school students to engineering as a career that can benefit the environment and the community. Read on to find out about Elizabeth’s story as one of the few female aspiring environmental engineers!
Environmental engineering could be defined as the branch of engineering that uses scientific methods and engineering applications to solve problems related to the environment. For me, an environmental engineer is a person that keeps the balance between human activities and environmental degradation by humans. My journey as a future civil and environmental engineer began way back when I was a little girl. My older brother, who is now an electrical engineer, was my role model for becoming an engineer. As a little kid, I aspired to become an inventor since I really enjoyed playing with electronic components. However, it was my passion for creating art from “trash” and recycling that led me to make the final decision for my career.
I completed my high school education in Mexico as a pre-engineering student and later moved to San Diego to attend San Diego City College. At City College, I took several math, physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering courses that prepared me for transferring to Berkeley. Once I transferred to Berkeley, I took more engineering courses related to my major such as Introduction to Solid Mechanics, Programming, Fluid Dynamics, Material Properties, and more. I am now a senior Civil and Environmental Engineering student at Berkeley and I am excited because in two years I will be able to achieve one of my aspirations, which is to become an environmental engineer.
While engineering has always been fun for me, I have to admit that I have faced many challenges along my journey. One of those biggest challenges has been the underrepresentation of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field; and more specifically, Latinas in engineering. The lack of women in engineering fields was an issue that I faced when I was in high school, and by the time I got to City College the situation did not improve. I found myself taking advanced physics classes where only four of the 20 students were females, and out of those four students only two were able to complete the course.
The situation is very similar here at the UC Berkeley engineering department where less than 30% of the students are females; and an extremely small percent are Latinas. The underrepresentation of female participation is the result of the lack of encouragement of women to participate in science and engineering since early education. I can attest that it is extremely important to empower young girls and to challenge our social stereotypes of female careers. We should encourage women to pursue STEM careers and become scientists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers!