Women at Florida Polytechnic University changing the face of modern engineering

Jun 23, 2019
Women at Florida Polytechnic University changing the face of modern engineering
Florida Polytechnic University sophomore Samantha Ashby (left) and assistant professor of mechanical engineering Dr. Zahra Sadeghizadeh are blazing trails for women in engineering.

On June 23, International Women in Engineering Day will celebrate the achievements of women in the field and encourage more females to enter engineering and related areas. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Transform the Future,” a goal female students and faculty at Florida Polytechnic University work toward every day in the traditionally male-dominated field.

Samantha Ashby: Proving wrong stereotypical doubts

Florida Poly sophomore Samantha Ashby discovered her love for engineering when she was just a child. While lost at a Walt Disney World gift shop, she said she found an Imagineering book and read it for an hour as her parents frantically searched for her.

“My dream job is to be a (Disney) Imagineer or work at Universal Creative Design designing the attractions,” she said. “These designers are the more creative, outside-the-box thinkers, so I always felt like I can be female, but in an environment like that, they’re always looking for someone with a different take.”

The Orlando native began taking engineering classes in middle school and said she soon discovered that, as one of few girls in class, her peers would doubt her abilities.

“I was constantly having to prove people wrong. So now if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to do everything I can to prove them wrong,” she said.

Ashby, a mechanical engineering major, said this does not happen often now that she attends Florida Poly, a school exclusively dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. She added that at the University she’s been able to connect with other women pursuing STEM careers, encouraging and supporting one another.

“For me, being a female in STEM, there weren’t a lot of people (in high school) that had the same interests as me in that respect,” she said. “When I came here, that’s kind of all we have, so I was able to find those people.”

Dr. Zahra Sadeghizadeh: Empowering women to conquer barriers

As a female assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Dr. Zahra Sadeghizadeh knows the simple fact of her presence in the classroom is helping to change the predetermined opinions some hold about women in engineering.

“When you show up in this environment and you act professionally, that changes the mindset about women,” she said. “It’s important to show them you can be a very good faculty regardless of your gender if you are passionate about your job.”

Sadeghizadeh received much of her education in aerospace engineering in her native Iran. She studied in a male-dominated environment without a single female faculty member to serve as a role model. She said she was happy to join the female role models already at work at Florida Poly when she arrived on campus in January.

“I like my department, the atmosphere, and my colleagues. We have diversity. Compared to other programs, we have lots of female faculty,” Sadeghizadeh said. “Everyone is very supportive.”

She said it is important for women and girls to know their gender does not have any bearing on their intellectual abilities.

“There is no scientific study that shows girls are not as good at math and physics,” Sadeghizadeh said. “The barriers are in our own minds. It’s the perception, not the reality.”

Lydia Guzman
Assistant Director of Communications