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Women in STEM see bright future with Building Pathways

Posted: 1:27 PM, Mar 29, 2023
Updated: 2023-03-30 19:22:19-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Women make up about 30% of first-year students in the University of Arizona's College of Engineering. In the civil engineering program, overall, that number is about 25%

Building Pathways at the University of Arizona tries to integrate community, building and academic success components into student's civil engineering experience.

They're hoping more females pursue a career in STEM, making the entire curriculum feel less intimidating and more personable. It's a $500,000 initiative funded by the National Science Foundation.

Noel Hennessey is an education researcher with Building Pathways who says the program will be a leader on the University of Arizona Campus.

Hennessey says, “It’s helping students see not just how to do the courses and how to thrive on campus but where they are going to go after they leave campus. They really get to see that up close and early in their academic career is what makes it unique.”

The program will combine peer mentorship, more faculty interaction, as well as internship opportunities for students like Denae Cervantes. She is a first-year engineering student and says, “I really didn’t know that landing an internship as a first year freshman engineer was possible.”

She moved here from Chicago, just to attend the U of A’s school of engineering.

“I knew I wanted to go into stem because I wanted to say I was a women in stem.”

~ Denae Cervantes

As a female pursuing a career in STEM, she knows she’s a minority in the department.

Hennessey says, “overall in the college of engineering, our first year students is about 30 percent women. In civil engineering, overall first year through graduation is about a quarter women.”

For Iliana Juarez, she knew her calling at a young age.

"When I was little, I would travel to Mexico and I would see the infrastructure and I'd be like, wow, these people are really struggling for basic needs. Maybe I'll go back and help one day."

~ Iliana Juarez

It sparked her interest in pursing a career as a civil engineer, hoping to one day go back to Mexico and help with their infrastructure. She recalls her orientation experience, saying it was mostly males. With building pathways, the engineering department hopes to change the statistics.

Hennessey says the program will “make the entire curriculum feel less intimidating and feel more personable.”

As for students like Juarez and Cervantes, they take pride in the challenge they are taking on.

“Who doesn’t want to say they are an engineer? Like that just sounds so cool,” says Juarez.

Heidi Alagha is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Heidi spent 5 years as the morning anchor in Waco where she was named the best anchor team by the Texas Associated Press. Share your story ideas and important issues with Heidi by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.