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'It is not just a man’s field': Avon woman changing the face of engineering

Rose-Hulman professor paving pathway for more diversity
Berry with students.jpg
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 22, 2021

AVON — An Avon woman has taken her love of teaching to pursue a new pathway for the future of engineering.

This Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology professor is creating positive change with her efforts to inspire more Hoosier women, who may not fit the stereotype of an engineer, to consider making that career choice to enter into the engineering industry.

Growing up, Greenwood native Allison Shi, dreamed that she would one day be gracing the stage as a professional ballerina. After high school though, she hung up her dance shoes to pursue a different career path, one that is heavily dominated by men.

“Why not? There shouldn’t be a barrier,” Shi said. “I think that there is no reason that a woman can’t be an electrical engineer and if somebody likes it, why not pursue it.”

Shi, who just graduated from Rose-Hulman this past spring, is dancing her way into her dream job straight out of college.

“It’s the dream for me,” Shi said. “I am going to be in the field of defense, so I will be working for a defense contractor that works closely with the Air Force.”

With an electrical engineering degree, Shi will be doing work on digital signal processing. The new graduate, a minority among her peers, says her education experience was a positive one.

“In my more advanced electives, I am typically the only female,” Shi said. “I feel like I am not treated differently because of my ethnicity or because of my gender, and I am really thankful for that because I think I was scared going into thinking I would be treated differently and it hasn’t been the case. But it is the case for a lot of people, I definitely recognize that but I think we are moving in a really good direction and seeing that just doesn’t play a role in the job that I can do.”

Shi’s experience was made possible by the women who paved the path before her, like her professor, Carlotta Berry.

“I had in my head an idea of what an engineer was, kind of very technically minded, very professional, and maybe a little bit cold, but I think that having Dr. Barry as a professor and an advisor has taught me that you can be warm and exuberant and welcoming in this field,” Shi said.

“A big part of it is, is me showing people that the diversity of what they do and how important that is, right,” Berry said. “Giving them that different perspective.”

Berry is an electrical and computer engineer, driven by a passion to teach. As a professor at Rose-Hulman, Berry knows she can inspire others who look like her, to follow a similar path.

“To me it means being a myth buster, a mold-breaker, a trailblazer and a pioneer, and I have told this story a million times, there are probably only about 200 Black women engineering professors in the country,” Berry said. “So me being able to do this job is not just me educating people, but showing them there is more than one way to be an engineer, there is more than one way for an engineer to look. We are not just Dilbert, we are not just Sheldon. But Carlotta can look like an engineer, my daughter can look like an engineer. So it just means so much more when I walk into that classroom because I am able to show those things.”

She uses her experiences with discrimination, marginalization and alienation to help others.

“I kind of blindly felt my way through and that is why I do what I do now because I wanted that pathway to be easier for someone else,” Berry said. “I do want to be able to have those kinds of conversations with my students and my daughter so that if someone does make those kinds of comments you say no, girls are meant to be here, no, girls can do math.”

Berry is changing the face of engineering through several outreach efforts to improve diversity among STEM students, to bring more women and people of color into STEM careers.

But, most importantly, her role as a teacher, to be an example for the next generation of engineers.

“By having those people in the room who are not exactly like who you expect them to be, you have these really rich discussions and these really interesting solutions to problems and that is why it is really important for all my students to see me there, while being a role model for my female and my students of color which is also important,” says Berry.

Berry’s work is paying off, as Shi prepares to enter the workforce instilled with a mindset of she too, can do this job.

“It is not just a man’s field,” Shi saod. “If somebody enjoys physics, math, building things with your hands. My goodness, I really enjoyed crafts growing up and just being able to use my hands and just make something, why not, why not pursue it.”

Berry will be recognized next week as a Distinguished Fellow by the American Society of Engineering Education because of her contributions to undergraduate engineering education.

Learn more about Carlotta Berry and her push to bring diversity to the engineering education here.