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Role Models Matter

Another pivotal time to develop mentorship relationships is when girls start making decisions about their college major. Professor Dr. Adrienne Rygel, Program Coordinator for the Civil and Environmental Technology program, is always eager to make a connection with juniors and seniors who have an interest in STEM.

“During our open houses and other information events, I make sure I’m visible and engaging with girls about our programs and showing them there is female representation among our faculty, ” she said.

When Rygel first developed the fouryear Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology degree in 2010, males made up the majority of the program. In the past 12 years, female students are enrolling at a much higher rate, sometimes comprising half of her classes.

With a mentality of leading by example, she weaves anecdotes about her career into the curriculum. Sharing her personal experiences as a geologist in the private sector helps students envision themselves in similar roles.

“It’s all about increasing their awareness about the job opportunities available, as well as allowing them to see and hear from women in those fields,” she said.

Retaining more female college students in STEM majors by providing networking opportunities is another way to close the gender gap, according to AAUW. Several years ago, Rygel and a group of students started a campus chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) to encourage more peer-to-peer and mentorship relationships.

“SWE brings everyone together and provides an environment where we can all help and support one another,” said Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology graduate and former SWE President Isabela Spelta ’20.