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Davis, California

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The school of challenge chasers


UC Davis School of Engineering renowned, diverse, close-knit

UC Davis consistently rakes in merits across a number of disciplines. In 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranked UC Davis 17th in the Top 20 U.S. public universities, Best Undergraduate Engineering Program. What’s more, Davis is ranked number one in the percentage of female faculty among the top 50-ranked Engineering Programs.

“[Davis has] role models and faculty that you can turn to,” said Laila Hassen, a fifth-year civil and environmental engineering major. “I’ve noticed in the past few years there’s much more female engineers or faculty that are actually teaching, so that way we can actually get to know them more, interact with them, and talk to them in ways that they can share experiences that your male engineer professors may not have that experience. It helps a lot seeing what a female engineer looks like in research, […] especially a diverse female engineer in research in higher education as a professor.”

For the past few years, Hassen has been involved with the Society of Women Engineers, a national organization founded in 1950. Hassen has served in leadership roles in the Davis chapter, which was established in the 1980s, including president, vice president and secretary. This year she is the presidential advisor.

SWE currently has more than 150 members from every engineering major offered at Davis. In addition to various social events and intimate career fair-dinner hybrids, the group hosts Project Aspire, an event where club members invite local middle and elementary school girls to participate in STEM activities.

“I think that’s important, especially when it comes to younger girls,” Hassen said. “They’re not going to care at the end of the day what process management is or what projectile motion is, they’re going to care that they had a positive experience with that, and so when they’re older and they’re choosing more of what they’re interested in, they will have something positive to look back on.”

Growing up, Hassen was drawn to the liberal arts and wanted to be an artist. However, she wanted to do something she considered more practical with her life. In high school she was exposed to a number of internships through a high school program she participated in known as the Green Engineering Academy, she realized she was interested in renewable energy and green engineering, both of which fall under civil engineering.

“Everyone says that engineering is problem solving, which to me I don’t think is the greatest explanation or description of it because in any field you’re going to have to do problem solving,” Hassen said. “Engineers are the ones who connect the theory and concepts and calculations to practical applications, so I would say engineers are like the ‘doers.’ The way I see it, at least with civil engineers, they’re the jack of all trades, they do everything that is needed to sustain human life, like building stuff for humans to survive like buildings and bridges, transportation, even transporting water, waste.”

Linda Lan Phung, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major and vice president of internal affairs for SWE, was interested in the macroscopic concepts taught in her physics classes in high school, which ultimately influenced her to choose her major.

“Like when an ambulance passes by, why does it sound louder and more high pitched when it approaches you and softer as it goes away?” Lan Phung said. “I really liked physics and then I also liked the medical aspect because I interned at Kaiser and I was torn between choosing which one, and then I found biomedical engineering.”

Although Lan Phung enjoys her studies at UC Davis, she believes that the university could do more to offer career exploration opportunities for engineering majors that focus around biological and agricultural engineering.

“I think the engineering is good, but career-fair wise, they don’t have a lot for biomedical I’ve noticed,” Lan Phung said. “There’s a lot more companies that come for CES or chem-e or mechanical and electrical, but the other engineering fields like civil and biomedical, materials science, […] they don’t have much for those fields.”

According to Lan Phung and Hassen, it’s a slight misconception that a student has to excel in or really enjoy math and physics to be a great engineer. Hassen herself is not the biggest fan of calculus and statistics. Although a background and understanding of the subjects are required for the various fields of engineering, there are certainly differences among them.

“All engineering majors at UC Davis require the same two years of math and physics, and a little chemistry,” said Rosalind Christian, a biomedical engineering advisor, in an email. “Other than that some majors like chemical engineering require lots of chemistry. Biosystems engineering requires a lot of biology. BME requires biology and chemistry in addition to the physics and math. In the last two years, the coursework and applications differ more and create the differences between the majors.”

UC Davis has 12 undergraduate engineering majors, including aerospace science, biochemical, computer and materials science engineering. Like Christian said, it’s often the differences between the applications of the different fields that leads students to picking one major over another.

“Engineering is based on applied science and so while much of the science can be similar, it is often the differences in applications that are where students should focus,” Christian said. “For example, civil engineers work on the civil structure — roads, buildings, bridges, sewers, water supplies. Sometimes they work outside. If working on those types of projects interests a student, then that would be a good choice. Biomedical engineers support the medical field, from lab work to working on computers to designing and building medical devices. If one really wants to focus on improving the quality of human health, then this would be a good field.”

Hassen described civil engineers as jacks of all trades, but said that mechanical engineers fit that category as well due to the fact that they are also involved in a little bit of everything. According to Hassen, mechanical engineers work in fields including the car industry, designing, testing, manufacturing and more.

Chemical engineers have a structured approach when learning chemical engineering, which enables them to design, manufacture and test. Whether they’re working in the oil and gas industry or in food science, Hassen claimed that chemical engineers have a set of skills that will fit any real-world chemical engineering job.

“I feel like [UC Davis engineering] is such a large and close-knit community, and it’s not as hyper competitive as a lot of other universities,” Hassen said. “That’s actually one thing that really surprised me. I came into college expecting it to be very competitive, very cut-throat, but the engineering community is very close-knit and everyone is super friendly and helps each other out.”

Despite differences among the various engineering majors offered at UC Davis, each one has a robust set of resources and organizations available to students. At the end of the day, Hassen recognizes that UC Davis engineers have more in common with each other than they might think.

“The similarities between the engineering fields is that we all have a very analytical mindset and in fact that when it comes to problem solving, when we graduate from Davis, we’ll all have the same approach in tackling a problem into understanding it, no matter what that is,” Hassen said. “I’ve noticed that in my own mindset. Whether it’s civil engineering, mechanical engineering, they all have very strong analytical skills.”



Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org


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