When Jennifer Shute and Jody Hand took leadership roles in Michigan Technological University’s inaugural Women in Automotive Engineering (WIAE) in July, one of their goals was to provide young women with something they didn’t have when they were students at Michigan Technological University—female role models in the automotive industry.
Women in Automotive Engineering, sponsored by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), was conducted by Tech’s Center for Pre-college Outreach as part of the Summer Youth Program (SYP). Both women work for FCA, Shute is product investigations manager in vehicle safety and regulatory compliance and Hand works as a reactive problem solving master black belt instructor.
While they were involved in all aspects of the week-long program, perhaps their most important role was to show the high-school women that a career in the male-dominated automotive industry is indeed possible.
“Part of the reason we’re doing this is the fact we didn’t have (female) role models, not only at their age, but also in college,” Hand said.
“This has been fantastic,” said Shute. “It is so great to see these 24 outstanding young women interested in this exciting profession.”
“We think it’s important they know they have options,” Hand added.
Hand said FAC was thrilled to be the sole sponsor of WIAE’s first year. She said the idea was spear-headed by another Michigan Tech alumnus, Stephen L. Williams ’86, FCA’s executive liaison to Michigan Tech.
Women Have a Place in Automotive Engineering
Williams said, “Although women purchase 60 percent of all vehicles and influence nearly 85 percent of all car-buying decisions, enrollment of women in baccalaureate engineering programs remains stubbornly low at around 18 percent.”
He said by sponsoring the FCA Women in Automotive Engineering Summer Youth Program at Michigan Tech, “we are making a direct investment that will hopefully encourage promising young women to consider engineering as a field of study and a career in the automotive industry.”
Cody Kangas, director of Tech’s Center for Educational Outreach, praised Williams’ vision and the commitment of FCA. “We were absolutely thrilled to partner with FCA this year and collaborate to offer this inaugural program,” he said.
Kangas said together with Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics and the Advanced Power Systems Research Center and mobile lab, “a very intentional and innovative curriculum was developed to showcase how exciting the field of automotive engineering can be. The week went very well, and we’re very much looking forward to planning for 2017.”
Hand agreed. “We certainly hope the program will continue,” she said.
If the aim of WIAE was to inspire young women, it certainly hit the mark with Serena Evans-Lutterodt of Bridgewater, New Jersey.
One Young Woman's View
“I love it here,” she said. “It’s so exciting to know exactly what I want to do.”
Soon to enter her senior year at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, New Jersey, Evans-Lutterodt said she’s always loved cars and engines and jumped at the scholarship-only program at Michigan Tech.
She said she’s never before been in a position to learn about the automotive industry from women who are actually a part of it. “This is so exciting," she said. "It helps to talk to role models and mentors in the automotive industry. It’s really my only opportunity to see the industry up close. I’ve been telling all my friends about this.”
Evans-Lutterodt has yet to make a decision on where she’ll attend college next year, and despite the fact she’s “not a fan of shoveling snow,” Michigan Tech is on her list. The University, WIAE and the APSRC facilities made quite an impression.
Which, according to William Predebon, chair of the ME-EM department, was one of the objectives.
Auto Technology for the Future
“These students spent the week learning about the modern technology in automobiles today in the Michigan Tech Mobile Laboratory, which is a state-of- the-art engineering teaching laboratory with the sophisticated technology used in the automotive industry today,” he said.
Predebon expressed gratitude to FCA for taking the initiative to sponsor the WIAE program. “It is an excellent opportunity for young female students to get exposed to the exciting innovations in the automotive industry,” he said.
Kangas said the program at Michigan Tech is unique. “At this point we know there are very few, if any, similar programs to WIAE in the United States.That alone speaks to the importance of not only continuing to offer it, but enhance and expand the experience to drive more prospective students to consider the field and its incredible careers.”
Kangas said the next generation of automotive engineers are currently in middle and high school. “So the sooner we can expose and familiarize them with the challenges and opportunities, the better.”
Everyone who had a hand in the success of the first year of WIAE hopes that the program will continue to be there for those students -- young women who will benefit from and grow up to become the role models and mentors that today’s female engineers, like Shute and Hand, never had.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.