FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Dr. Lalita Oka's first day as an associate professor in 2013 at Fresno State's Civil and Geomatics Engineering Department was a surprise.
"I was like, oh my, I have all-male colleagues in my department, and even in the class, there are no female students."
According to the American Society for Engineering Education, women only make up 17 percent of tenured faculty in U.S. colleges of engineering.
That percentage is even lower for Black and Latina women.
"Many female faculty go through the same experience," Oka said. "They feel isolated in the department because they are all by themselves, and they need to be supported."
Oka and her colleagues helped secure a $1.25 million grant to increase the number of female engineering professors in the California State University system.
They're using the funds for research on supporting and advancing female faculty, providing grants to engineering researchers and creating a CSU-wide mentoring and peer support network.
Oka believes providing career role models encourages more women to enter the field.
"We need to make sure that our presence is felt so that eventually, everybody will start accepting us as engineers because even now, there is a lot of discrimination in the field," she said. "They feel that you are an engineer but you are not really that engineer."
When it comes to design or planning infrastructure, Oka says having women in the field makes a world of a difference.
Fresno State working to add women to California State University engineering faculty
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