Student-initiated graduate council provides valued support network for women
In the male-dominated field of engineering, it can be hard for women to connect with others who face the same struggles. Luckily, a group of female engineering graduate students at Ohio State banded together to form a council that helps women in the engineering graduate program network and develop.
The 12-member Women in Engineering Graduate Council (WEGC) was established in 2016 to support women engineering graduate students and to give them a platform to discuss issues specific to women in their field.
WEGC organizes events in which women pursuing higher engineering degrees at Ohio State can work on personal, professional, social and community development.
“Our mission is to support women who are pursuing PhDs or master’s in engineering because the women who started [WEGC] noticed that there was a huge [gender] gap,” said council leader Bhuvi Nirudhoddi, a materials science and engineering graduate student. “The College of Engineering had programs to support grad students in general, but not women, and we face an entirely different set of issues in our graduate careers.”
WEGC has become a safe space where Nirudhoddi can talk with other women about research difficulties and other problems.
One of the council’s first events was a book club. Members were given an opportunity to read and discuss a book about work-life balance with others who struggle with similar issues. It also gave them a break from the constant research and studying that comes with being a graduate student.
Another event hosted by the organization is a fall retreat for incoming female engineering graduate students, which is especially beneficial for those who are new to Ohio State.
“It’s not only a space for you to get in contact with other women who may or may not be in your major, but it’s also just a way to connect and to find friends,” said civil engineering graduate student and council leader Chante Vines.
WEGC holds events that enable female students to speak with and ask questions of women in the workforce who know firsthand what it is like to be part of a male-dominated field. They also host networking opportunities with women in academia and company representatives.
Council members have noticed that not only has there been an increase in the amount of men attending their events, but they consistently return. Nirudhoddi said it’s important that men learn more about what it’s like to be a woman in engineering so they can become allies.
WEGC focuses mainly on community and wellness, council leaders said, because it can be hard to have a voice when you are the only woman in a graduate-level research group. Vines said that by talking to other women involved with the council, she has learned how to advocate for herself and fellow women engineers.
“It’s very easy to be completely alone in graduate school, especially in engineering,” said WEGC treasurer Yixiao Cui, a biomedical engineering graduate student. “We focus too much on research and results instead of on ourselves.”
Although WEGC has only been around for a few years, they are an accomplished organization. The council received the College of Engineering’s Diversity and Enhancement Award in 2017 in recognition of their work to create in inclusive mindset and culture through a range of activities. They are sponsored by companies such as Owens Corning, Intel and Eaton, who see the value of their efforts.
“We’ve won a few awards … and those are awesome to have, but I’d say what we have accomplished is much bigger than that,” Nirudhoddi said. “We’re a very unique organization within the College of Engineering and we’re still working towards maintaining this kind of impact.”
WEGC has also expanded the number and variety of events they hold each year. Not only are men attending these events, but undergraduate students are showing up as well.
But Cui said the group’s biggest accomplishment so far is the friendship that has formed between the council members. It has allowed the 12 women to form a pillar of support for all female graduate Buckeye engineers.
by Alex Andrews, College of Engineering student communications assistant