Engineering, Not Just For The Guys

Engineering, Not Just For The Guys

When Christine Pageau tells people her major, she tends to get strange reactions: raised eyebrows, interjections and awkward pauses. Many people are shocked to find out that she is a junior in civil engineering because, well, she is a girl. Pageau just laughs it off. Yes, she is a woman who doesn’t mind calculus or getting a little dirty working on a construction site.

Yet, she is not surprised by people’s reactions. She is, after all, majoring in a male-dominated profession. According to Judy Cordes, director of the women in engineering program at MSU, only 16 percent of MSU engineering students are women, even though nearly 54 percent of undergraduates are female. Women are in the minority in engineering, and they know it.

Pageau has a core group of three to four girls in her major. They tend to stick together and sit with each other in class. “The guys generally tend to think we’re smarter just because we’re girls in that area, which is usually not the case,” said Pageau. “But it’s not so bad. I think they’re kind of intimidated because they’re used to being with all guys.”


Not many females walk the halls of the engineering buildling. (photo: Emily Lawler)

Cordes said engineering classes range from five to 15 percent women, varying by major. Chemical, material science and biosystems engineering have the highest amount of women, while computer, electrical and computer science have the lowest.

Senior mechanical engineering major Eva Reiter has been the only woman in class a few times, but she gets along well with the men. A lot of the same students have been in her classes over the years, so she has become friends with many of them. Despite the lack of females, Reiter feels comfortable in school. “It’s not too bad being the only girl in class,” Reiter said. “You don’t really get treated differently.” Though, she does feel like, as a woman, she needs to work harder and be at the top of her game in order to compete.

Cordes thinks that female students sometimes put the pressure to work harder on themselves. “But I think there are some expectations that to be as good as the guys they have to work harder and perform better because they are carrying the weight of all the women,” Cordes said. “It helps them with the acceptance by the rest of their peers.”

Not all women in the college agree. Junior mechanical engineering major Rachel Maurer says she likes her classes and finds that everybody always helps each other out. She has never had anyone be rude to her because she is female. “It may even be the opposite,” she said. “Teachers are extra nice, and some of the guys might help me out, and they won’t help anyone else out. So far I’ve had no problems.”

The overall climate for women engineers seems comfortable for students at MSU. Cordes does not hear many complaints from female students about mistreatment. “I’m sure there’s things that happen, but it’s not like it’s a chronic problem all the time,” she said. While women seem to feel content in the college, they may still reach out to other female students for support.

Society of Sisters

Since it can be difficult for students to find other women in their major, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) brings women together. The MSU chapter of the national organization has the mission to help women achieve their full potential. Approximately 50 students are involved, including some men.

Cordes said that having an organization for women is a good way for them to support each other. “It’s very foreign to most women when they come into a classroom or a situation and they may be the only woman, and it’s a difficult major,” said Cordes. “So between those two things sometimes they need extra support or extra incentive to keep going.”

SWE offers an opportunity for women to make friends, form study groups and hear from different companies. “Women don’t tend to leave engineering because they aren’t doing well,” said Cordes. “They tend to leave because they can’t connect to it or can’t relate to it, so this group helps them relate to their major.”

Most of the members of SWE are very active, but Pageau has found that the group is not the best way for her to adapt to the engineering world. “In SWE you’re kind of learning to talk with other girls,” she said. “Yeah it’s good to do, but it’s not how the real world is going to be – with all women. I wanted to do more clubs that were with guys because I need to be more comfortable working with guys.”

Male-Dominated Field

Many women face more obstacles in the workforce than at school. Cordes said that women often feel more pressure when they get out into the real world. “I think the working engineering arena is very different from the school experience,” she said.

Reiter has had three different internships, and each company had different amounts of women and respect. She hasn’t experienced any blatant discrimination, but interning at an oil refinery last summer put her in a tougher climate. “There was a little bit of resistance by some of the older skill workers to kind of communicate with you,” said Reiter.

Pageau interned at an asphalt plant with very few women. She would experience little “cutesy things” like being called “girlfriend” by the truckers. “It’s not a huge deal, but people definitely treat you differently,” she said. “You just have to learn to stand your ground and show that you’re there for a reason and that you worked hard to get there.”

Women’s experiences differ greatly by company. Maurer interned for a biomedical company where about half the employees were women. Everybody was friendly and she got along well with all the employees. She has found that many companies are looking to recruit more women. “A lot of them are happy to see that I’m female, that I have experience and have a good GPA,” she said. “I actually think that it gives women kind of a boost.”

Cordes said that being female may give students a little bit of an edge, but they still have to be very qualified. “It’s not just an automatic at all,” she said. “That idea to get [a job] just because you’re a woman is not true.”

Balancing Act

Female engineering role models are scarce within the college. Many students have never had a female professor, pushing some students to look outside of school to find mentors. When Reiter had an internship at an aviation company, both her boss and her boss’ boss were female. Seeing women in charge inspired her.

“I have found quite a few women in engineering that prove that you can work your butt off and put in the effort, but you can also do it with a smile on your face and be respectful to the people around you,” said Reiter. “Meeting all of those people has helped.”

Many women look up to female engineers who can balance a career and a family. Reiter said work-life management is a challenge for male and female engineers, but she sees it as a greater challenge for women. “You are faced with that ‘OK if I want to have kids, how is that going work out with day care?’” she said. “Obviously I’m only 22. I’m not quite there yet, but I know that it’s something that I’ve thought about and something that I know is going to be a challenge.”

Even in college, engineers do not have much free time for a social life. It’s not unheard of for students to clock 60 to 80 hours in the Engineering Building weekly.

When Reiter finds time to go out, her friends have told her not to talk about her major with boys. “I joke around with my girlfriends that it’s the fastest way to get a guy to run away from you,” she said. She finds that it takes a strong-willed man to hang out with a bunch of engineering women who are surrounded by men daily. “I can talk like a pirate if I have to and boss around people twice my size,” she said. “But if a guy is intimidated by a fact that you’re an engineer, you probably shouldn’t be dating him anyway.”

Likewise, Pageau has found that when she talks to guys about her major, it can be unsettling. “I think the idea of a girl being on top can be intimidating,” said Pageau. “So they are kind of shocked. I think it has a huge effect on them.”

Why So Lonely?

While the number of women in engineering has increased dramatically over the past decades, men still greatly outnumber them. In fact, Cordes said the number of women enrolled at MSU has dropped 6 percent over the last seven to 10 years, following a national trend. The reason for lack of female participation continues to perplex women in the field.

One reason may be that girls are not pushed into engineering. Cordes said, “They’re not encouraged by their teachers, by their counselors or by their parents necessarily because they don’t really know what engineering is so they don’t think about it traditionally as a female role or career.” Many women interested in science and math are choosing other routes such as medicine.

Reiter only realized engineering was a career option for her when she attended a conference in high school that showed women different careers in science. “I think if I hadn’t have had that, I wouldn’t have come to Michigan State knowing that I wanted to be an engineer for sure,” she said.

Many women might not be interested because they do not understand the applications of engineering. Cordes thinks that some women cannot connect to it or see how it can make a difference in the world. “Women tend to want to have a career that’s going to help people, to help society or to help the environment and it’s very hard for them, sadly, to see how something like computer science or electrical engineering is going to help; yet, it does.”

Population might also be a factor. The size of the engineering college has gone down overall. Cordes has been trying to figure out why there is a lack of female engineers for a long time. “If I could answer that question, I would be in Washington,” she said. “It’s a very hard question, and we just don’t know.” For now, Cordes will continue to recruit students like Pageau who have a love for math and don’t mind hanging out with the guys.

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Just Blowing Smoke?

Bars in East Lansing are starting to open their doors to students that are only 18, but these bars do not serve alcohol. Instead, they offer a relaxing atmosphere where students can smoke flavored tobacco through a hookah. Students who would never touch a cigarette feel comfortable heading down to the Blue Midnight Hookah Lounge just off campus to enjoy an hour of smoking hookah with their friends. Hookah has become one of the trendiest social activities among college students, many of whom see no harm in participating. It is a common belief that hookah smoking is not hazardous, or at least a better alternative to cigarettes. In truth, hookah smokers are putting themselves at risk for harmful health effects.
Over the last few years, hookah bars have popped up in college towns across the country as more and more students gather with friends to smoke the flavored tobacco. Jeff Wareck, manager of Silver Streak and Krazy Katz, a tobacco head shop in East Lansing, said he has definitely seen an increase in hookah sales over the last two or three years. This popular trend has become a way for students to relax and hang out. Sophomore finance major Jack Burke said he smokes hookah about once a month because it is social and fun. “You feel like part of a group. There’s good conversation and showing off with smoke tricks is fun,” Burke said. [Hookah2]
To use a hookah, charcoal is placed on top of tobacco in the bowl. The charcoal heats the tobacco, producing smoke. When inhaling, the smoke travels through the hookah’s body tube, which extends through a glass jar at the base of the hookah. The jar contains water, which cools the smoke before it enters the hose. The hose attaches to the mouthpiece through which the smoke is inhaled.
This modern hookah design was developed in Turkey hundreds of years ago. It was modeled after the original version of a water pipe, which was first invented in India. Hookah, or nargile as it is called in Turkey, became popular part of Turkish culture after it was incorporated into their coffee shops. Today, smoking hookah is one of Turkey’s oldest cultural traditions.
Hookah as a cultural tradition spread to many other countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Israel where it remains popular today. In the Arab world, the hookah is commonly known as shisha. Most cafes in the Middle East and American cities with large Middle-Eastern communities offer hookah and are a popular place for social gatherings.
Though celebrating friends and culture, hookah smokers around the world are also putting their health at risk. The inhalation of smoke raises major health concerns about smoking hookah. Many people believe that the water in the base of the hookah helps filter out harmful byproducts. But Rebecca Allen, alcohol and drugs health educator at Olin Health Center, said that this is a myth; the water does not filter out toxins. In fact, she said smoking hookah is “equally as harmful” as smoking cigarettes.
It may even be worse. Allen said that with hookah, smokers take in more smoke all together and for longer periods of time. According to the World Health Organization, a person can inhale more than 100 times more smoke in a one-hour hookah session than in a single cigarette.
“Since you inhale much longer and much deeper you get a lot more of the byproducts – more tar, more carcinogens,” Allen said. Hookah smokers, like cigarette smokers, inhale carbon monoxide. Exposure to these toxins in cigarettes has been known to cause heart disease and lung cancer.
Donald McGrath, a co-owner of Blue Midnight Hookah Lounge, said that students do sometimes ask about health risks. “We tell them that no smoking is good for you, obviously,” McGrath said. But he also pointed out one plus of smoking hookah rather than cigarettes. “Hookah is 100 percent pure tobacco, so there are no additives like rat poison that are found in cigarettes,” McGrath said. Yet, customers at Blue Midnight are not misled into thinking hookah is completely harmless. “Of course, we never tell people that it is good for them,” McGrath said.
While research on the health effects of cigarettes is extensive, there are few studies on hookah. Further research needs to be done to determine how much and how often hookah smoke needs to be inhaled to cause long term affects and diseases. Since hookah smoking in generally a social activity, people usually smoke it a lot less often than they would smoke a cigarette. McGrath said that most of their customers come into Blue Midnight about once or twice a week to smoke. “Moderation is important not just with hookah but with a lot of things,” McGrath said. Comparing it to cigarettes he said, “Two packs a day would be bad, but with hookah it’s not every day.”
[Allen]Although unsure of how great of a difference it makes, health experts are keeping in mind the tendency for hookah usage to be infrequent when determining its health effects. “If you don’t smoke hookah a lot, in some ways, over the long haul, it can be less harmful [than cigarettes]. But it is still equally addictive,” Allen said.
Nicotine intake and addiction is another primary health concern of smoking hookah. Just like cigarettes, the tobacco used to smoke hookah contains nicotine, which makes smokers feel more relaxed. “Nicotine is unusual in that it releases a chemical cascade, unlike other drugs, releasing eight different types of brain chemicals, some of which act as a stimulant,” Allen said. Nicotine causes changes in the brain that make users crave it more and more. It can also cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Though many people know that cigarettes are addicting, many are unaware of the risk of becoming addicted to smoking hookah. “There is a great potential for addiction or abuse,” Allen said. “It’s critical to understand that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances we know of.” Not only are the smoke and nicotine harmful, but the very mouthpiece of the hookah can also raise health concerns. Allen said that it is possible to spread viruses or even herpes by sharing a mouthpiece, but most are preventable with cleaning. “A lot depends on where you’re going to smoke,” Allen said.
Many hookah bars offer disposable plastic mouthpieces to prevent the spread of germs. Each person has their own, which can easily be put on the hose and taken off. But a lot of students who use their own hookahs do not take such precautions when sharing with their friends, possibly subjecting them to the spread of colds or worse.[hookahsmoke]
In March, the Michigan House of Representatives introduced a bill that would regulate hookah sanitation in bars and restaurants. The bill mandates the use of disposable mouthpieces and single use hoses, in addition to proper cleaning of the bowl and body. McGrath said that they already sanitize well at Blue Midnight. “We sanitize the whole thing – the base, the pipe – for obvious reasons,” McGrath said. While some hookah bars may choose to sanitize on their own, further action has yet to be taken on the bill; so for now, proper sanitation is not law.
So with so many health effects involved with hookah, why does it seem that nobody knows about them? The law does have a few restrictions on hookah. You must be 18 to buy tobacco or to smoke hookah at a bar. Additionally, Wareck said that there are typical hazard warnings, like those found on cigarette packs, on tobacco boxes. Yet, many hookah smokers are unaware of the potential health risks.
Junior economics major Jeremy Procopio said that he does not worry about his health when smoking hookah. “It’s interesting because when you smoke hookah, you don’t wheeze or cough at all,” Procopio said. Although he knows that smoking is probably bad for him, he doesn’t feel any obvious effects.
Like many students, Procopio only smokes once in while with his friends, which can make it seem even less serious. Gathering once every month or two may discourage smokers from seeing hookah as addictive or dangerous; they may see it as just something to do with friends. “It’s social. That’s why people aren’t concerned too much with the health risk,” McGrath said.
Though Procopio is unaware of the specific health hazards of smoking hookah, he speculates that many people are misled into thinking that hookah is safer than cigarettes. “It’s probably one of the worst things high school and college students can do besides smoking [cigarettes] and drinking. But it’s hard to know because there is no advertising against it,” Procopio said.
Indeed, while health education in schools and TV commercials do their best to stop kids from smoking cigarettes, almost nothing is said about hookah. But members of the Michigan legislature are making an effort to increase awareness of the health effects of smoking hookah, in addition to regulating sanitation. In March, the Michigan Senate introduced a bill that would require businesses that sell hookah tobacco, including hookah bars, to post health hazard warnings in English, Arabic and Spanish. The Senate also introduced a similar bill in March that would create a health awareness campaign explaining the risks of smoking hookah. Both of these bills await further action.
But will these bills make a difference? McGrath does not think increasing knowledge of health concerns would deter many students from smoking hookah. “I assume that most people who smoke know that it’s not good for you because it’s common sense,” McGrath said. Many students may already have some idea that hookah is bad for them, and might not stop smoking once they hear the specifics.
“I am aware of the health problems related to hookah, but it does not affect my behavior,” Burke said. The law and health professionals can try to warn students of the health risks, but that does not mean that they will listen.
College is full of risky decisions from binge drinking to casual sex. While nicotine addiction and toxic smoke may harm hookah smokers, the social atmosphere and nicotine buzz provide a good time. Hookah smokers will have to decide for themselves if the benefits outweigh the risks.

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Green on the Big Screen

Have you ever groaned over gas prices or worried about the quality of your tap water? Chances are that at least one environmental issue has affected your daily life. Our drinking water, energy, food and waste are all environmental concerns. In recent years, an environmental movement that addresses these concerns has exploded across the country and at MSU. The environment has even become part of our culture. Walking around campus, one can see students with totes, shirts, and bumper stickers promoting the care of planet earth. In 2006, Al Gore’s blockbuster documentary An Inconvenient Truth spread an awareness of global warming – an issue that many had not even heard of just a few years ago. This one film provoked a wave of environmental activism around the world. This year, MSU will bring over 20 lesser-known films to East Lansing in the hope of inciting environmental consciousness and activism. From Nov. 13 to 16, MSU will host an environmental film festival named “Green on the Big Screen.” [susanwoods]
The event, which the College of Communication Arts & Sciences is hosting, is the first ever environmentally focused film festival to be held at MSU. Matt Cimitile, the president of MSU’s Environmental Journalism Association who is helping to organize the event, said that they chose to do an environmental film festival now to raise awareness about the declining state of the environment. “We wanted to focus on the environment because it’s increasingly important and there is a growing demand to understand and solve these issues,” Cimitile said.
Susan Woods, director of the East Lansing Film Festival, is also directing Green on the Big Screen. She said that the environment is the one of the most important issues society is currently facing. “Everyone is realizing that time is running out. Even the auto and energy industries understand that they must become part of this movement if they want to survive.” Since the public cry for alternative fuel and energy has become louder, she said that industries must learn to adapt if they want to stay in business. Hopefully, this environmental film festival will raise awareness of the issue.
The organizers of Green on the Big Screen will show films on topics most relevant to the Lansing area, such as water, alternative energy, agriculture and sustainability. The films will be shown in the Communication Arts building where attendees will also be able to explore an informational fair that will be running throughout each day. Student organizations, businesses, and agencies will have booths encouraging attendees to become locally involved. The fair will show people how they can help the environment and solve some of the issues presented in the films.
The Power of Film
Green on the Big Screen was created to augment environmental discussion. While totes or shirts may fail to effectively communicate an eco-friendly message, Woods thinks films can inspire people: “What I love about film is that it can transport you into another world. It affects you emotionally, intellectually, and on a visual level in a way that no other art form can.”
Woods hopes the festival attracts both students and citizens of the community to come together for the cause. “Film is one of few art forms that is a collective experience. People to go to a film festival because they are finding other people who are interested in the same things as they are. Festivals bring people together in finding and learning,” Woods said.
Woods was very careful in picking out the films that will be shown in the festival. The films needed to be both educational and entertaining. Boring documentaries will not likely unite people for the cause. Woods said, “The films are good and they touch on issues that will interest people.” Factual and entertaining, the films can be both enjoyed and contemplated.
The opening night film, Encounters at the End of the World, is a documentary directed by Werner Herzog. Released in theaters last year, Encounters shows the rarely filmed beauty of Antarctica. Some people may be familiar with Herzog’s work; he directed Grizzly Man in 2005 about a scientist who is killed by a bear while studying grizzlies in Alaska. Grizzly Man was very popular, perhaps because Herzog has a style that pulls viewers themselves into the film. “The director has a sensibility that’s a little bit off-kilter, and it becomes engrossing,” Woods said. Andrea Meditch, the executive producer of the film, will make a guest appearance at the festival and stimulate discussion about the film.
Guest speakers were incorporated into Green on the Big Screen to help enhance the viewers’ experience in at least five of the films. The speakers have either worked on the film or have expertise on the topic. They will hold question and answer sessions to help viewers better understand the films and their messages. Caitlin Dixon, editor of the documentary FLOW: For Love of Water, will be a guest speaker for the film. FLOW confronts the fact that the world’s supply of water is dwindling, an issue that greatly concerns citizens of the Great Lakes area. Woods is especially excited to have Dixon, since she is originally from the Lansing area.
Not Just for Professionals
MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism is another major partner of the festival. Part of MSU’s journalism school, the Knight Center trains students to become professional environmental journalists through classes, workshops or experience writing for EJ Magazine.
In the Knight Center’s environmental filmmaking class, students make a documentary utilizing MSU’s resources. The Knight Center will show two student-made films at Green on the Big Screen. Dying to Be Heard and Meltdown, are each about 30 minutes in length and explore some of the most prevalent environmental topics. The films were made as the first two parts of the Knight Center’s television series “Environment” and have already been aired numerous times on local PBS stations.
The storyline of Dying to Be Heard was inspired by an editorial by Knight Center Director Jim Detjen published in EJ Magazine. The article and film tell the story of groundbreaking research done by zoology professor George Wallace in the 1950s on the harmful effects of pesticides. By studying numerous dead robins found on MSU’s campus, Wallace was one of the first people to link the deaths of birds to DDT. A man-made pesticide, DDT was widely used in the 40s and 50s to kill mosquitoes that were spreading malaria. Unfortunately, DDT also ended up killing birds. Wallace’s findings were cited in Rachel Carson’s infamous book “Silent Spring” in 1962, which criticized the widespread use of DDT without knowing the possible effects of the new chemical. Her book led to the banning of DDT and the start of the environmental movement.
Fisheries and wildlife management senior Ben Phillips worked as an associate producer on Dying to Be Heard, which was made in the 2006-2007 school year. He hopes Green on the Big Screen will put a spotlight on the Environmental Journalism department. Speaking of the film he said, “It looks like a real documentary. It doesn’t look student-made.” [Phillips]
The Michigan Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences seems to agree with Phillips. This year, the academy awarded Dying to Be Heard an Emmy for best lighting, received by executive producer of the film and Knight Center instructor Lou D’Aria. The film was also nominated for best original music, composed by doctoral music composition student Kevin Wilt.
Phillips hopes viewers take an important message away from the film. “I think that everybody should know that they’re not historically autonomous,” Phillips said. Wallace’s story warns of the possible tragic effects of implementing new, unstudied “solutions” to environmental problems. Learning of the mistakes made in the past can help society find the best ways to deal with environmental issues today.
The second student-made film to be shown at the festival was made in the 2007-2008 school year and explores one of the most talked about issues today: global warming. Entitled Meltdown, the film is based on an article published in EJ Magazine called “Messages from the Artic” by Alicia Clarke, which talks about glaciers melting in the Artic. The film interviews several experts at MSU about the possible effects of global warming.
In the film, MSU plant biology expert Merritt Turetsky reveals that climate change may be causing the solid earth of the north to become soggy. In the boreal forests of northern Canada, Russia and China the ground is usually permafrost, or frozen soil. But studies have found that the permafrost is melting, damaging the natural environment.
Environmental journalism graduate student Mary Hansen helped work on the film and hopes it brings more awareness of the lesser-known effects of global warming. “People need to realize this is going on. We need to work with scientists and not be so skeptical,” Hansen said. She said that it couldn’t hurt if we all took small steps to help reduce global warming.
The Films
From orangutans to the garbage in your own backyard, the films shown at Green on the Big Screen will cover a wide variety of topics. Some of them are funny and some are tragic, but they all have their own story to tell about the environment. The following are just a few of the films that will be shown.
As seen in the news lately, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has brought a new wave of attention to the desire to drill US oil reserves in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The film Oil on Ice reveals the unique environment of the refuge and the impact American travel, oil use and energy policies have on the area.
[mattcimitile]Part of David Suzuki’s television show, Nature of Things, the documentary Build Green shows homeowners how they can utilize their resources to build more environmentally friendly homes. The documentary shows how to use rain, sun, dirt and waste to reduce their impact on climate change. Implementing these changes can also give homeowners a healthier and more economic home.
King Corn is a popular documentary that explores the corn industry. Two best friends move to Iowa to learn about corn farming and the widespread use of corn in many of our foods. The film presents many questions about how America farms and what we eat. Woods said that the film is very entertaining as well as relevant to an agricultural school like MSU.
Do Your Part
After viewing the films, Woods hopes people will “turn off their lights, walk more and recycle more stringently.” She also hopes people become more active in their community. She said, “This is just the beginning of what could be a very important event.” If the festival is successful, it will continue in future years.
Cimitile hopes the festival motivates all member of the Lansing area to come together for the cause. “Individuals matter, but it will take a whole community to make a change. And major change can happen at the local level. You don’t need the federal government to take action. Change can happen at the state, local and university level,” Cimitile said.
Now it is up to you. Green on the Big Screen provides the information, but you must decide what you do with it. Will you help care for the environment? Or will you hope someone else takes responsibility? The earth has many problems and action must be taken to fix them. Instead of wearing a recycling sign on your T-shirt, encourage others to recycle in your dorm. Instead of sporting a tote embroidered with a tree, organize tree planting in your community. MSU students have the power to change the world. Woods laid it out simply: “This is your generation, your future that is in jeopardy.”

The film festival runs from 4pm Thursday, Nov. 13 – 7pm Sunday, Nov. 16
Film Festival Costs: $3 for 1 film, $6 for 3 films, $15 for all films
To learn more about Green on the Big Screen and for a complete list of films visit

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