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ECU chapter recognized by national society

June 21, 2012

By Melanie Jock
ECU News Services

After three years of operating unofficially, East Carolina University’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers has been recognized by the national organization.

The society was created to support women in engineering and recruit women into ECU’s program, which opened to students in 2004 and was established as a department one year later.

“It’s such a male-dominated field that it’s hard to get the women to come (to engineering),” said Karen De Urquidi, coordinator for advising and retention in the Department of Engineering and creator of the ECU society chapter.
De Urquidi

“It’s a great field for women, but they have to be shown ‘you can do this,’ it’s not just for men, and we have a support system to help them out.”

De Urquidi said the national acceptance is important because it gives ECU’s chapter and the engineering program broader recognition.

“Having more affiliation with other SWE chapters will be a great benefit since we are a small program,” she said, and noted that the next closest chapter is in Raleigh.

De Urquidi uses her personal experience to encourage women to explore engineering, explaining that she took 20 years off to raise a family, and still returned to engineering.

“I want to show women that you still can do it, whether you choose to work or you don’t, it’s still a good degree,” she said.  “There are people who want female engineers, because we are few and far between.”

De Urquidi said women are important in the field because of the different point of view they provide.

The Department of Engineering at ECU continues to grow, with the first class graduating in 2008. Student enrollment increased from 37 in 2004 to 308 today. Female enrollment, however, hovers between 10 and 15 percent. Six women were in the first incoming class, and today 33 engineering students are women, with 18 entering as freshmen this fall.

ECU chapter president Carman Pericozzi of Winston-Salem said she wanted to pursue engineering since her senior year when she shadowed a biomedical engineer, a profession that combines the medical field and mathematics. 

“SWE has given me and other females engineering students an opportunity to form a support group and a chance to make new friends,” she said.

Pericozzi said that along with recruiting other females to engineering, her involvement in the society allows her to volunteer in the community.  ECU members have participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, hosted a canned food drive, and shopped for and wrapped gifts for a family during Christmas.

“Since there are so few females in engineering, SWE has helped me get to know other girls and be able to talk about my strengths and weaknesses in engineering,” said SWE member Megha Sinha of Morrisville. A fascination with pacemakers, artificial organs and other medical equipment led Sinha to a biomedical engineering.

“I hope that as new members join, they can benefit from the society as much as I have.”
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