WHEN talking about the subject of engineering, rarely do we picture women at the centre of the conversation.
According to the Board of Engineers Malaysia statistics, of the 26% female graduate engineers in Malaysia, only 6% of this group are professional engineers.
Determined to break the glass ceiling, University of Southampton Malaysia (UoSM) Mechanical Engineer lecturer Dr Ch’ng Shiau Ying is out to prove that women too can become an engineer.
“There are misconceptions about what it means to be an engineer, especially among women.
“Young women, not all of them, think that engineering is not suitable for them. The stereotype here is that they are not good enough or are not suitable for these roles,” she said when met at the recent Sureworks Higher Education Fair 2018 held at Mid Valley Exhibition Centre.
A lecturer at UoSM since 2017, Ch’ng said that engineering often gets a reputation for being too technical and involves a lot of hands-on work with machinery.
She even observed the prevailing trend at UoSM itself, where she noticed a majority of the female students are more interested to study Biomedical Engineering and, Electrical and Electronic Engineering than Mechanical Engineering.
“It is still a misconception that whenever the students think of Mechanical Engineering, they would think of a guy repairing a car,” she said, adding that the subject is still very much a male-dominated field.
As a young girl, Ch’ng said she has always enjoyed the subjects of Science and Mathematics and was fortunate enough to have a supportive family to pursue engineering.
“I was quite fortunate that my parents never really pushed me to do something that I don’t want to do.
“And it helps to have an elder brother as a role model. I was really influenced by him to study engineering right after my STPM.
“Funny thing was, we both ended up studying in the same university 10 years apart,” quipped the young lecturer.
Believing that no gender should be attached to a certain job, Ch’ng is confident that women can make big contributions in the field of engineering.
“I believe that there is no job that is gender-specific. We can inspire more young women to take up careers in these crucial areas since this will pave the way for our future economic development.
Citing the example of Malaysian woman engineer Rupa Shanmugam who is now the president of the largest electronics manufacturing service provider in New York, women too can be a trailblazer in the industry.
“Personally, I cannot foretell what the world would look like if women ruled engineering, but something is not working at the moment.
For Ch’ng, inclusivity is important in every aspect of decision-making to ensure that new progress and breakthroughs are being made.
“If the ideas are coming only from men, it will become saturated. By involving women, they can offer a different perspective and come up with something that guys never thought about before.
“While we can’t say for certain that women would make engineering a better industry, what we do know is that when women are in leadership positions, or involved in decision-making, societies work better,” she added.
To facilitate this, the university has organised many activities to boost female empowerment such as training for its research and academic staff, International Women’s Day in March, as well as programmes and discussions by professionals to help encourage more female students to take up STEM degrees.
Besides schools and universities, media also plays an important role in breaking down stereotypes because there is a lack of awareness about engineering that caused many girls to disregard it as a viable study option.
In the end, Ch’ng believes that change should start from home.
“Don’t classify your children based on gender. Parents generally have an idea that only boys should play with robots while girls play with dolls. Let children play with educational STEM toys like LEGO blocks instead,” she advised.
Offering globally-recognised engineering programmes at foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate levels, UoSM aims to produce well-rounded and progressive students that will break the stereotype.
UoSM offers students a chance to earn an internationally recognised degree from the University of Southampton, UK – ranked as one of the top 100 universities in the world.
Students will also get to complete their final two years of studies in the UK campus through the unique 2+2 programme.
Besides, the university has a ‘flying faculty’ programme where lecturers in the UK are attached to the Malaysian campus for about a month to facilitate knowledge-sharing with local students and thus ensuring the same high-quality standards across the board.
The upcoming intake is in September. For more information about the engineering programmes and other programmes, visit UoSM Information Day on Aug 18 from 10am to 2pm at its campus in EduCity, Johor or visit www.southampton.edu.my.