While women are still underrepresented in engineering fields, the gap is starting to close, Mary Boyce, the incoming dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said in a talk in Lerner Hall on Sunday night.
Her speech, given to about 50 attendees at the annual banquet for Society of Women Engineers, focused on her life as an engineer and the particular challenges of being a woman in a field dominated by men.
Just as SWE provides a meeting point for women engineering students, Boyce, the chair of MIT’s mechanical engineering department, said that she and fellow female faculty have provided each other with a support system over the years.
“Women engineering faculty would get together for sanity checks,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have the support of your women peers.”
The talk marked Boyce’s first appearance on campus since she was appointed SEAS dean last month. She will take over from Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb in July.
“Engineering is pretty quantitative, so if you’re performing well, it’s hard not be recognized,” she said.
Boyce also emphasized the importance of engineering at a time like now.
“We’re at a point where the public appreciates engineers,” she said. “Whatever we do as engineers can have an impact on society in the world.”
Jenniffer Feliz, SEAS ’13, said she was glad to hear Boyce’s optimistic message. “She was really authentic and had a positive view on women’s engineering.”
Boyce also said that female engineers benefit from the broad range of opportunities and perspectives available at Columbia. Incoming SWE president Sasha McIntosh, SEAS ’15, said that this point resonated with her.
“She mentioned that at Columbia, people are worldly, which is something that drew me to Columbia,” she said.
Boyce also emphasized the idea that passion for one’s career can often lead to success. “It was never a planned trajectory. I find what I like to be doing and that’s what I do,” she said. “If you do what you love, it will go really well.”
Boyce’s passion and sincerity about her job in engineering was well received by SWE members.
“I really like how transparent she was. Her speech provided a good perspective on how she made her path, and it wasn’t intimidating,” Akshata Ramesh, SEAS ’13, said.
Nazli Tuncer, SEAS ’16, said that she admired the dean for “the way she made her speech about her life, set herself up as an example, and was so genuine.”
Boyce said that while engineering itself is defined by innovation, it is really the people involved who are making the difference.
“Engineering is not just generating new jobs, and new technologies, but new professionals—new people,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Tuncer was SEAS ’13. Spectator regrets the error.