CU Boulder breaks down engineering barriers, tells all students they look like an engineer

Ad campaign targets women and minoritiy students

BOULDER, Colo. — If you do a Google search for the word engineer, you'll get picture after picture of workers in hard hats. Most of them men, and few minorities among them.

"There's definitely a typical mindset of who the engineer is," says Yohannese Gebremedhin, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Gebremedhin says while studying mechanical engineering at CU Boulder, he encountered very few African American students like himself.

The College is trying to change that, and one effort involves a social media campaign called #ILookLikeanEngineer. The hashtag went viral in 2015 when a California software developer, Isis Wenger, was featured in an ad for her company. The company was criticized for hiring a "model" instead of an real engineer. Wenger started the campaign to tell people she is an engineer, and other women can be too.

Mary Rahjes, a mechanical engineering student at CU Boulder says the demographics of engineering are changing, but men still dominate the field on college campuses.

"For some of my friends who are in computer science, they do feel like they are the only woman in the room. If they see another woman, they automatically latch on," says Rahjes.

The #ILookLikeanEngineer campaign features the pictures and stories of CU Boulder students like Rahjes and Gebremedhin who may not fit the sterotype of an engineer. Ever week through the fall semester, a different student will be featured. And it's not just about what they look like. The campaign also helps dispel the myth that engineers all have similar backgrounds or interests.

"A lot of people don't think of engineers as very artsy people but one of the things i really love to do is I love to write," says Rahjes. 

"At CU we are really trying to change the demographics of engineering and so this was an opportunity for to showcase some of our diverse engineers, so that youngsters can see themselves as engineers," says Sarah Miller, the assistant dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The goal is to reach high school and middle school students who are not as likely to see engineering as an option. One of the students featured, Alan Sanchez, says his high school in Denver was 90 percent Latino and many undocumented students didn't even think college was an option.

"What I learned being here [at CU Boulder] is that there are so many opportunities that are available that aren't necessarily visible," says Sanchez.

CU hopes the campaign will also help students see the wide range of possibilities in engineering. Not all jobs require a hard hat.  Alan Sanchez is a break dancer on the side, and says engineering needs diversity of all kinds.

"You just need to get as many different mindsets working together, different backgrounds, different ways of thinking," he says. "I try to bring all those things, creativity, passion and just a good attitude to engineering."

You can follow the campaign #ILookLikeAnEngineer on CU Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science website as well as Facebook and Twitter.

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