As a teen, Jeanette Corona knew that she wanted to
create and design products to advance engineering and
technology to help humanity.
She pursued a mechanical
engineering degree at Cal State Fullerton and was among a
handful of women in the Class of 2015. After graduation, she
landed her first job as an engineer at Edwards Lifesciences, an
Irvine company specializing in the design and manufacture
of artificial heart valves.
“I’m glad I stuck with it,” says Corona, whose engineer role
models are her two older brothers, also CSUF grads. “Now I’m
working on products that can save lives.”
With low numbers of females choosing engineering and
computing careers nationwide, the College of Engineering and
Computer Science is priming the pipeline by partnering with
industry, providing mentoring and offering extra support to
encourage and motivate female students to stay in engineering
and computer science, graduate and enter the workforce.
Because data show that the first two years are critical in
student retention and eventual success, the college wanted to
do more to advance female freshmen and sophomores. In 2012,
it began offering a specially designed one-unit course for entering women, made possible by a gift from Raytheon. Over the
last couple of years, the outreach effort has succeeded in helping
retain female students in the historically rigorous majors, notes
Victor H. Delgado, assistant dean for the college.
With continuing Raytheon support, the college
launched a re-engineered effort — the Women in Computing
and Engineering program — to provide a more comprehensive
approach to foster a learning community, improve college
persistence and graduate more women. Begun in the fall, the
program provides extra academic and support services, leadership
opportunities, career planning and advice, as well as exposure
to female industry and faculty mentors to help them succeed
in their majors and professions. Program offerings include
counseling and retention services, peer-to-peer mentoring
and career readiness workshops.
“One of the key focuses of this program is connecting
students to professionals, specifically women within the
industry, while also adding the element of site visits to companies
to introduce them to the world of engineering and high tech,”
says Marcela Rojas, the college’s career specialist, who
coordinates the program with Delgado.
“We’re passionate about empowering female students by
providing a learning community and sense of belonging to show
them that they can do it and that women are just as capable as
males to thrive in engineering and computing disciplines,” says
Susamma Barua, professor of computer science and computer
engineering and the second female to hold the position of
associate dean within the college. “Industry needs women
because women provide a different perspective in the workplace.”
“I’m glad I stuck with it. Now I’m working on products that can save lives.”
Jeanette Corona, above, is an engineer at Edwards Lifesciences, which designs and manufactures artificial heart valves.
Alumnae Take the Lead
When Laurie Haack ’79, ’06 (B.S. computer science, M.S.
software engineering) walked into her first computer science
class at a local community college in the 1970s, she was the only
woman. Originally a business administration-accounting major,
she switched to computer science after taking a programming
course, awed by the possibilities.
“When I first looked at the computer science curriculum,
I remember that my stomach clenched, and I felt very stressed
about the path ahead,” Haack recalls. “The curriculum had many
courses that sounded so difficult, plus courses on topics that I had
never heard of. I have since learned that it is good to be scared.
It means you are stretching and challenging yourself, and I tell
other women, ‘Jump in, you can do it!’”
Haack has enjoyed a 37-year career at Raytheon, where she
manages a 30-member team that develops software for battlefield
radar systems. She is among several mentors who frequent campus
special events and career fairs, serve as guest speakers or meet
female students for lunch.
“I think that by being here on campus, young women can
better visualize their future opportunities when I talk about my
experiences in the engineering field and at my company, and
how I have balanced my family and career,” says Haack.
“I tell other women, ‘Jump in, you can do it!’”
Laurie Haack of Raytheon, center,
is a leading supporter and mentor to engineering and computer science students,
including freshman Marissa Alvarez, left, while Marcela Rojas helps coordinate
the Women in Computing and Engineering program.
Caecilia Gotama ’82 ’86 graduated with her bachelor’s and
master’s degrees in engineering-mechanical despite her father’s
belief that the profession wasn’t ideal for a woman. She happily
proved him wrong and worked in various progressive positions
before starting her own successful engineering firm.
“The good thing about being a woman in a male dominated
industry is that everybody will remember you by
name; you are not just one of those 6-foot-tall people with a
blue suit and tie. If you are good at what you do, everybody will
remember that,” says Gotama, who recently retired.
Corona also has returned to her alma mater to talk to
students enrolled in the Introduction to Engineering course.
“The first engineering class can be intimidating,” says
Corona. “Mentors are important for both males and females. In order to obtain a good start, the correct guidance is key
to a successful career. It is a great way to network and meet
“Women also need to understand that computer science
and engineering are excellent career paths,” she adds. “Great
discoveries have been made by women — and the key to increase
women in these fields is exposure to women in these fields.”
Gotama also is a keen supporter of the college. She has
provided funding for the development of communications and
soft-skills training so undergrads — both female and male —
can flourish in technical careers.
“Bringing the importance of these skills to the forefront
to all students and providing them with training opportunities
will help them perform better in their work environment,”
Increasing the number of females in academia is just as
important as in industry, says Barua. In the fall, four women
joined the college faculty, including Beena Ajmera ’11 ’12 (B.A.
civil engineering and mathematics, M.A. civil engineering),
assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who holds a doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University.
“As a high school student, when I told people that I was
interested in a career in engineering, I was often asked, ‘Are
you sure?’ I was constantly reminded that I was entering a male-dominated
industry, and some even went to the effort of giving me
statistics about how few female engineers there are,” says Ajmera.
She is excited to be back at her alma mater to inspire and
build confidence in all her students, especially women.
“Studies have shown that more women are likely to pursue
careers in engineering if the presence of female faculty exists.
Female faculty members and female engineers in the industry can
illustrate and even put a voice to the idea that this does not need
to be a male-dominated industry, that there are plenty of women
who can contribute, and that their hard work and opinions are
valued,” she says. “Women can provide the additional support
and guidance that’s needed to bridge the gap between a male-dominated
industry and a gender-balanced industry.”
“I was constantly reminded that I was entering a male-dominated industry, and some even went to the effort of giving me statistics about how few female engineers there are.”
Beena Ajmera, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering
The Next Generation
Freshman Marissa Alvarez has always had an interest in math
and science, yet had her sights on pursuing a career in business. That changed after she landed an internship at Northrop
Grumman during her last semester of high school.
“The experience opened my eyes to all the amazing
inventions created by engineers. It motivated me to strive to
one day work for such a prestigious company — and be part
of something big to make this world better,” says Alvarez.
A first-generation college student and a member of the
student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Engineers, Alvarez
has already met with Haack and her fellow female engineers,
who encourage her to stay with it.
“Hearing their stories, getting insights about the field
and the steps they took to be in the positions that they are
in today inspires me to want to be successful like them.”