Women in STEM are the stars of Engineering Week 2021 at Universidad del Valle

Special Edition: To celebrate Engineering Week 2021, which will be this week between November 24-26, we spoke with Professor Laura Sofía Rodríguez Pulecio, from the School of Systems and Computing Engineering within the Faculty of Engineering of the Universidad del Valle (Univalle).

"The mission of the week is to make the work of women in engineering more visible, talk about the gender gaps that still persist in our society and how engineering can contribute to reducing these gaps... and talk about what are the factors that even today there is a low participation of women in these areas,” said Professor Rodríguez.

Exploring the challenges associated with engaging women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is the focus of the week's theme, which is “Women in Engineering: Research, Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the development of the region."

"If we want to reduce discrimination and inequalities, the first thing we have to do is talk about the issue, and Engineering Week will be a space to talk, and find alternative solution from the 'ingenuity' that characterizes us as engineers," explained Professor Rodríguez, who is the co-founder of the Women in STEM group, whose mission is to empower women to actively participate in the areas of science and technology, contributing to the development of society.

Low Participation of Women in STEM

Professor Rodríguez explained that although women make up a little less than 50 percent of the human population, the participation of women in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Colombia and in the world is around 30 percent.

"The figure is similar in engineering generally, but if the programs are analyzed independently we know that there are programs such as mechanical engineering (with less than 10% of women), electrical and electronic engineering (less than 15% participation) and there is a special behavior with systems engineering that went from 45%, 10 years ago to less than 25% today,” Professor Rodríguez said,

"If we do not promote the participation of women in these areas, not only are we going to fall short of trained personnel in the future, but we are not going to have the opportunity to achieve sustainable development and our viability as a human species will be at stake."

Professor Sara Aida Rodríguez , a researcher at the Fatigue and Surfaces Research Group, and the sister of Professor Laura Rodríguez, attributed the low participation trend of women to a number of factors, including the family environment.

READ MORE: Engineers in Cali, Colombia Are Reducing Wear, Tear And Corrosion

"Adolescents can be very influenced by parental opinions or perceptions ... If parents do not think that STEM is a path for their daughters, they are less likely to study this," Sara Rodríguez said.

Photo: Professor Sara Aida Rodríguez, researcher with the Research group on Fatigue and Surfaces Credit: Andrew James / NCC / Univalle

Lack of Rolemodels

Professor Laura Rodríguez says a particulary big challenge is the lack of female rolemodels.

"Girls need to be able to identify with women in leadership roles and women doing science and research," Laura Rodríguez said, adding that this is the reason it is necessary to work on school textbooks, on the examples that we use. in classrooms, in inclusive language in family and academic settings.

"We must also talk about how some women have managed to overcome barriers, create collaborative networks and mentor, that women who have managed to reach important professional positions, and those in leadership positions that can help the youngest researchers," Professor Rodríguez said.

Some successful examples of the power of close rolemodels are Univalle Professor Ruby Mejía, director of the Composite Materials Group, and Professor Mónica Villaquirán, from the same group within the School of Materials Engineering (EIMAT).

READ MORE: Trash To Treasure: How Materials Engineers In Cali, Colombia Built Better Building Materials

“In undergraduate, Professor Mejía was my role model, I identified with her and did my thesis at the GMC, she has always been my mentor both in undergraduate and graduate, and now as a colleague she is a person that I admire a lot for her leadership, tenacity, management capacity and also because he is a great human being,” Professor Villaquirán said , who was appointed as a professor at Univalle in 2017.

Photo: Professor Ruby Mejia, director of the Composite Materials Group. Credit: Edgar Bejarano / Univalle

Photo: Professor Mónica Villaquirán, with two samples. Credit: Andrew James / NCC / Univalle

How to Close the Gender Gap

"Gender parity is an essential element in the growth, competitiveness and projections of the economies of countries and companies," explained Professor Laura Rodríguez, adding that if economic equality is promoted between women and men, it would have world GDP growth of 11 percent and, in a scenario of full potential, growth of 26 percent.

Professors Laura and Sara Rodríguez wrote a scientific paper together on the economic gap between men and women and the effect of this on the low participation of women in engineering in Colombia.

“To the extent that female engineers receive 30% more wages than women in any other field, increasing the participation of women in female engineers contributes to reducing the economic gap between men and women, and that in our region is more than necessary to promote post-pandemic economic recovery," Professor Laura Rodríguez said. 

Professor Laura Rodríguez explained that the economic gap is due in part to the years in which women spend at home, motherhood and caring for sick siblings or parents. This situation persists, to the extent that institutions do not have, for example, lactation centers or nurseries. 

"You cannot ask a mother to express milk in a bathroom or in a space in poor condition," Professor Laura Rodríguez explained.

"But we have to work with greater speed and intensity, we cannot continue at the pace we are going... the World Economic Forum says that if we continue at the current rate it will take us 200 years to reach economic parity," said Professor Laura Rodríguez.

READ MORE: This Colombian Engineer Uses Logistics To Help Health Services Run Better

Photo: Professor Elena Valentina Gutiérrez from the Logistics and Production Research Group Credit: Ana Valdes / School of Industrial Engineering / Universidad del Valle

Telecommuncations Profesional

In addition to advocating for Women in STEM, Professor Laura Rodríguez is also a researcher at the School of Computer and Systems Engineering at Univalle, who works on telecommunications, vehicle networks, Internet of Things and cybersecurity.

She infuses her teaching and research activities with her 15 years of experience in the private sector in operation and maintenance of communication networks, implementation of Information and Communication Technologies solutions, project management and governance of technology and innovation, and even she recently headed the Univalle IT and telecommunications office.

Photo: Aida Rodríguez de Stouvenel, director of the White Protein Project and researcher at the School of Food Engineering. Credit: White Protein Project

If you would like to contact the researchers or learn more about the projects, write to the Communications Office, Faculty of Engineering: comunicaingenieria (at) Correounivalle.edu.co

[Portal photo: Professor Laura Sofia Rodriguez Pulecio, from the School of Systems and Computing Engineering (and the Co-founder of the STEM women's group from the Universidad del Valle]

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