Engaging, Inspiring, Achieving

COD’s women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are building bridges, shattering stereotypes

When COD student Alana Alfeche was a child in the Philippines, she had no clue what engineering was. But she liked bridges.

From her family home, getting to school required crossing a lake.

“On sunny days,” said Alfeche, “the water level was low, so we could cross by jumping across rocks.” 

When it rained, however, the water level rose to five feet. 

“We still had to go to school,” said Alfeche. “So if we knew rain was coming, we’d prepare the day before by looking for the biggest log we could find in the forest and making a bridge out of it.

“Since then, I’ve liked the idea of making bridges. I want to create bridges in material science and engineering that will connect my skills to someone’s needs.”

COD’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) helps students pursue careers in engineering. The chapter’s members, including Esther Miron (left) and Alana Alfeche, also are investing in the community, working with local Girl Scouts to stage a bridge-building competition early next year.

Today, too few students—women especially—are learning to use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to build literal and figurative bridges. 

Census figures show that women comprise almost half the U.S. workforce. But in STEM professions, women fill only 24 percent of the jobs. 

“Many women never pursue careers in STEM fields in the first place because they feel disinterested or discouraged from doing so,” reported U.S. News. 

COD’s women in STEM concur. And they’re shattering STEM-is-for-men stereotypes. 

“I can remember two times when someone dismissed my thoughts or questions with something like, ‘Well, what do you know? You’re just a girl,’” said Associate Physics Professor Carley Kopecky. “Even though these comments were said jokingly, they made me feel defensive about even being in the class.”

When Associate Professor Lubna Haque began an applied chemistry degree in college, she was one of only 18 women among 400 students. While some expected women to change majors or quit, Haque rose to the top of the class.

“My whole persona began to change,” she said.

COD women teaching and studying STEM say that mentors, early career exposure, parental encouragement and role models are keys to attracting more women to STEM. 

“Girls should be encouraged to think about STEM careers earlier in their lives,” said Haque. “If they hear that every kind of job is open to them—including those that are STEM-related—then more young women will choose the STEM jobs they want.”

“If more girls knew what STEM jobs entail, they might match their interests to a STEM career,” said Kopecky. “Some K-12 schools let students build circuits and rockets. Such programs might make a young girl say, ‘I like designing/building/fixing/problem-solving. Maybe I should be an engineer/mathematician/programmer.’”

Linda Kirby, a U.S. Navy veteran and COD student said schools should do for STEM what they’ve done for other vocational subjects.

U.S. Navy veteran and COD student Linda Kirby

“Implementing more technology programs into high school, similar to automotive classes, would be a great way to get students interested,” said Kirby.

“We can get more women interested by setting up field trips and job shadowing very early in the education system,” said COD pre-med graduate Ina Furxhi. “Student organizations also provide insight into what STEM is really like in the working world.”

In clubs, said Alfeche, “students get to apply what they learn in class to real-world situations. College of DuPage, for example, is the only community college in the nation participating in NASA robotics mining competition. This competition is really challenging the robotics team’s creativity and problem-solving skills.”

Alfeche said the need for STEM-educated professionals will continue to grow.

“There are many bridges that need to be constructed and buildings that need to be redesigned. Our health is in danger as new illnesses are introduced. We have limited resources such as gas and water. And many of our experts will retire soon and we need to be prepared to replace them.”

At top: When College of DuPage Associate Professor Lubna Haque began an applied chemistry degree in college, she was one of only 18 women among 400 students. (Photo by Press Photography Network/special to College of DuPage)


Contact Information

Direct all comments and questions to the editor at impact@cod.edu.

College of DuPage
425 Fawell Boulevard
Glen Ellyn IL 60137

2013-2014 Outstanding Faculty Award Winner


Lubna Haque

Lubna Haque, associate professor of Chemistry at COD, has been named the Overall Outstanding Faculty Member for 2013-2014.

College of DuPage

425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn IL, 60137

(630) 942-2800 (Main)

(630) 942-3000 (Student Services)

  2017 College of DuPage