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Scholarships empower women to pursue engineering degrees at WVU

A student wearing safety glasses works at a table in an engineering lab.

West Virginia University student Paislee Adlington sands a rocket in the laboratory used by the Experimental Rocketry Club. Adlington is pursuing dual degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering at WVU with scholarship support. (WVU Photo/Garrett Cullen)

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West Virginia University senior Paislee Adlington was first drawn to engineering on family vacations to Disney World, where the roller coasters piqued her interest. Today, she is shooting for the stars — literally — as she pursues dual bachelor’s degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Adlington, of Bridgeport, is among a growing number of women pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields as STEM job opportunities expand. At WVU, women account for about 18% of undergraduate students and 24% of graduate students at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and those figures have increased over the past 20 years.

For Adlington and many of her female classmates, scholarships have empowered them to find their purpose and excel. Adlington is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and she leads the WVU Experimental Rocketry Club as its first female president. She also studied abroad in Munich, Germany, with scholarship support.

“If it wasn’t for the scholarships I received from WVU, I don’t think I would have been able to take part in as many opportunities as I have as an engineering student,” Adlington said. “Encouraging students like myself and underrepresented people in STEM — females, minorities — to pursue their dreams and providing scholarships to help them pursue their dreams without the financial burden is something that’s extremely important.”

Finding community
Abbie Lieving, a senior from Mason County, was inspired to pursue a STEM career by high school math and science teachers, as well as a cousin who enjoyed her experience as a student at the Statler College. She chose chemical engineering because it integrated chemistry and math while simultaneously offering broad career options.

Lieving was intimidated when she began her journey at WVU, but scholarship support has offered her the freedom to get involved — as a Statler College student ambassador, math tutor and SWE treasurer — and find support.

“Now, being in my classes, I see that there are other women in engineering as well, and being a part of the Society of Women Engineers here on the WVU campus has honestly been such a great support system, because you are surrounded by other females in engineering,” Lieving said. “They share some of your same tendencies and the way that you handle situations, and honestly, having that support system has meant everything to me being here at WVU.”

WVU appealed to recent graduate Kaelyn McClain, of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, because of its proximity to home, Division I swimming and diving program, and available scholarship support. She appreciated having a community of female classmates and faculty within the biomedical engineering program, which interested her because it offered career opportunities in medicine other than patient care.

“Women have so much potential to make great advancements in engineering, so it’s really important to make sure that women and girls have that exposure and access to that education,” McClain said. “I also think that some of the best innovations in engineering come when you bring together a diverse group of people that have different experiences and perspectives to bring to the table.”

Engineering the future
Emily Garner is one of more than 40 women teaching at the Statler College. A native of Swanton, Maryland, Garner earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at WVU and returned as a faculty member after completing her doctorate at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on the role of microorganisms in drinking water and wastewater systems.

“Being a woman in engineering for me is about representation,” Garner said. “From my own experience, I definitely know that whenever you see very few women around you in your classes and even fewer women teaching those classes, you can certainly start to question whether or not you belong, whether this is a career path that makes sense when you see so few examples of people that kind of look like you and have a similar background to you.

“For me, teaching at WVU is an opportunity to show our students, both women and from a variety of backgrounds, that lots of different people can be successful as engineers and that they can meet their professional goals.”

Garner said there are lots of career opportunities in engineering for women who enjoy science and math and have an interest in tackling real-world challenges, such as sending a rocket to space or improving drinking water quality. She finds that women are especially drawn to the new bachelor’s degree program in environmental engineering, and she is encouraged to see more women in her classes today than she saw as an undergraduate student at WVU.

“There’s a growing need for engineers across not only the United States but also the world as technology is changing and the demand of different industries are changing,” Adlington said. “So, we’re seeing new engineering industries coming up like biomedical, environmental engineering and even new spaces in aerospace engineering. Being able to see that increase in demand, it’s important for women to get involved in it to then be able to fill that demand.”

Lieving noted that engineering is often about problem-solving, and she believes women have unique skills and perspectives that are essential for the future. Although engineering is a challenging field, she said scholarship support has motivated her to succeed.

“Every day I wake up and I’m a little nervous going to classes because you don’t know what you’re going to learn, but having that financial support and those people in my corner is something that I think about daily,” Lieving said. “They are just pushing me to get my degree so that I can continue to go on and make the world a better place. I have a sense of pride being in this major and choosing to go with this career path for myself, and I definitely couldn’t see myself doing anything different.”

Scholarship gifts to support Statler College students are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.



Senior Communications Specialist
WVU Foundation

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