Junior Alivia Tolbert concentrates as her mouse jots around her computer screen. She bites her lip and adjusts one of her lines on the program. Tolbert is working on a dream design, not just of the project she is currently working on, but her ultimate goal of becoming an architectural engineer.
During spring break her sophomore year, Tolbert visited the Dallas, TX area with her family and said she fell in love with the architecture of many of the homes in the area. “I was like, ‘How did they build that?’ and we were talking about it the whole car ride home. And my mom said, ‘There’s actually a degree for that, where you literally can just see how people build things and figure it out and do it yourself,’” Tolbert said.
That’s when she said her plan started to form. Tolbert is currently taking Civil Engineering and Architecture but is planning on taking Engineering Design and Development at Summit Tech next year to prepare her for her ultimate goal of graduating from Kansas University Engineering and becoming an Architectural engineer. Tolbert said the structure from 7th grade introduction to I-tech, to the eventual PLTW and Summit Tech classes are a great way for all students to get the career readiness they need going into college. For Tolbert, she said design is essential to her career readiness.
Paul Klene, Talbert’s math teacher last year, and who Talbert credits with encouraging her to keep working on her plan, said, “I think Alivia is well suited to become an engineer. The math gets harder when you pursue engineering but she has the will power to get through it.”
The job description for an architectural engineer is, as Tolbert put it, “an architect would be the person who drafts everything, like designs the building, and the architectural engineer checks that design and makes sure it’s okay, like it will withhold and be sturdy,” she said. “Basically, if anything goes wrong and if something crashes down, it would be the architectural engineers’ fault.”
Talbert’s boyfriend, Gavin Hernandez, said that Talbert is a perfect example of someone who could handle the pressure of being an architectural engineer. “I’d definitely describe her as motivated. She gets stuff done,” Hernandez said.
Even though she has a plan for her future, there have been some challenges for Tolbert, and many other women pursuing STEM related careers— mainly the stigma and lack of visibility of women, especially women of color, in the field of engineering.
Tolbert said that one of the most jarring things in her early engineering classes was the lack of other female students interested in the same thing. “Whenever I would take those I-Tech classes, I was the only girl in there. I think there was maybe one other one,” Tolbert said.
This inequality in numbers goes beyond high school. According to the Society for Women in Engineering (SWE), only 13% of current engineers in the workforce are women, and in 2019, only 9.5% of female college students had declared for an engineering major.
Tolbert said one reason for this is the lack of recruiting toward girls. Tolbert said she thinks that if secondary education showed more examples of successful female engineers and gave visibility to them, more girls would feel included in STEM related classes and be more willing to take them.
Klene said, “ I think engineering has a lot of opportunities for women and she [Alivia] stands out as just the type of person any engineering firm would like to employ.”
Another reason for a lack of interest in STEM careers is the pay discrepancy between male and female engineers. According to SWE, male engineers on average are paid 10% more than their female counterparts.
However, it’s not all Debbie Downer in the world of STEM. Over the past 10 years, the number of women involved in engineering related degrees has increased by 6% and is steadily growing, as more and more visibility and career opportunities are brought into young girl’s minds.
As Talbert is one of the many young women representing this new generation of female engineers, she is “excited to see what’s coming next.”