By Stormie Sanchez/Staff reporter
At Amarillo College, women are disregarding stereotypes and pursuing careers that have been considered traditionally “male.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13.9 percent of engineers in 2019 were female. The numbers are lower when it comes to welding, with 5.3 percent being women. The gender gap may be daunting for some, but it isn’t keeping local students from pursuing their dreams.
One of those women, Ashley Scott, a mechanical engineering major, said she always had a love for math, but, through the encouragement of professors, branched into engineering.
“I began taking a few engineering classes and enjoyed the academic challenge, therefore, I continued with my pursuit,” Scott said.
Passion isn’t the only motivator. Faith Harm, a student in AC’s welding program, said she just wanted to “try different things.”
“I like hands on things,” Harm said. “I didn’t want to be stuck in an office all day.”
However, being in the minority has its disadvantages. “I have had men doubt my knowledge on a subject just because I am a girl.” Scott said. “I have had a man tell me that women are meant to be nurses and men are meant to be engineers because women have more maternal instinct.”
And although Harm feels she is mostly treated the same as her male peers, she said they do joke around. “You have to be stronger willed or you’re just going to be pushed around for sure,” she said.
Alex Rubio, a civil engineering major, has had a different experience. “All my professors, peers, family, friends, etc. are extremely supportive of my decision to pursue engineering and have really helped me over the years by encouraging me to continue,” she said.
Other issues, such as time management arise. “There is a lot of homework and assignments that need to be completed,” Rubio said. “Most assignments take several hours.”
The students in the accelerated welding program meet four days a week for eight hours a day. Although they do all of their work in class, they are presented with their own unique challenges.
“We spent four hours turning a 20-inch plate into these three little one quarter strips,” said Yose Ruenda, a welding student. “If the bridge cracks or it doesn’t pass, you have to start all over,” she said.
Harm said it can be frustrating. “If you’re too frustrated you can’t actually weld, you have to be focused,” she said. “You have to pretty much let it go and take a five to ten-minute break and calm down.”
The programs may differ, but at least one thing is true for both: connections with classmates and instructors are an important factor for success.
Johnny Sims, a welding instructor, offers encouragement and advice for the women in his class.
“He pretty much motivates us, and teaches us little techniques that helped him,” Harm said.
Rueda said she agreed, saying Sims emphasizes teamwork among his students.
“He says ‘we.’ ‘We are going to make it. I’m going to watch you guys graduate up on that stage,’” Rueda said.
Rubio said that many professors are willing to offer advice when things get tough.
“All my professors have been extremely encouraging when it comes to pursuing engineering. I have had many meetings with professors who have talked to me about their experiences and challenges during college and given me helpful ways to deal with challenging situations.”
Female students pursuing nontraditional careers find support and important insights from their peers as well.
“Friends will hold you accountable, and organizations allow you to get advice on study habits, classes, professors, etc. since they are usually run by upperclassmen who have already gone through most of the engineering program,” Rubio said.
According to Ruenda, her peers help each other get better based on individual strengths and weaknesses.
“We kind of just help each other out. It’s kind of a family in here,” she said.
The students show passion for the careers they are pursuing, and offer advice to other women who are looking into nontraditional fields.
“Gender has no effect on the dream you are pursuing. We are all human and we are all working tirelessly for our dreams,” Scott said.
Ruenda said she tells women not to let gender hold them back. “If it’s your gut instinct, just go ahead and do it. You are just as good as any other welder. Not men, not women, any welder,” she said.