Genesis of a Student Engineering Club

Driven by curiosity, Jessica Carlson and Katie Cudworth grew up making things and solving problems. Joining the mechanical engineering program at Boise State University was a natural next step, and they didn’t waste time seeking out their next big challenge.
They quickly found that engineering school could feel isolated, especially as women, and going through it would be difficult without a support network. They set about establishing a mechanical engineering club, laying the groundwork for students to engage and eventually succeed in college and careers.
The group has had only one meeting, but the turnout of 10 pleased freshmen Carlson and Cudworth. A good way to get started and attract more members is through competitions, and the club hopes to enter one next year.
“Right now we are looking at a lot of energy and robotics competitions. We’ll set a deadline and say ‘hey, we need people,’” Carlson said. There’s also an interest in aerospace, she said.
A larger goal is for the club is to be a go-to organization for mechanical engineering students to network, find mentors, connect with experts and get advice on careers and skills.
“It’s crucial you build that group of people you can go to in the first year. If you don't have people you can go to, you start to see drop outs. I wanted it to have help for my journey through college," said Carlson, who has an interest in robotics and is also auditing electrical engineering course.
The women attended ASME’s E-Fest West in Pomona, California, to get ideas on how to build the club. “What we're struggling now is with the outreach. We’re also here to watch the competitions to see how we can effectively implement this into our program,” said Cudworth, who aspires to be a professor.
The ratio of mechanical engineering students at Boise State is skewed in favor of men, so the fact that women are establishing the club isn’t lost on Carlson or Cudworth. Finding role models and getting involved in projects are a few ways to cut the number of women dropping out from engineering courses, they said.
At the college level, it is typical for men who are friends to do projects together, and that’s a barrier for women to get involved. “The initial reaction is you won’t look beyond your friends, and that’s where a lot of the connections get lost,” said Carlson.
The club was partly inspired by the time spent in FIRST Robotics and Living Learning Communities, which connects students at different levels. In this case, the women wanted to connect upperclassmen with lowerclassmen.
“I wanted to bring in people to build the core club—if you have more connections, you are going to talk to more people. You are going to meet people who will help you get through," Cudworth said.
It’s still early days for the mechanical engineering club. Carlson and Cudworth are looking for leaders to run management, finance, and outreach of the club. The search for mentors and subject matter experts is also on.
“For the remainder of the year it’s important to get a leadership base set up so next year we can enter competitions,” Cudworth said.
Agam Shah is associate editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.