Farmingdale State College
Engineering the Progress of Women
Taking the Lead
The naming of a woman as Dean for the School of Engineering Technology was standard for Farmingdale, a leader in appointing females to leadership roles in STEM fields.
So after Dr. Barbara L. Christe took over as head of the 2,400-student engineering technology program, she was not surprised to learn about Farmingdale’s commitment to gender equity—particularly in science and technology. “The profile of the workforce at FSC suggests a welcoming environment with an administration that supports academics regardless of gender,” Christe says.
Yet, the addition of Christe could be considered unusual, given that only 17 percent of deans nationwide in schools of engineering are women and the number for schools of engineering technology is even lower.
But at Farmingdale, there are seven women in the engineering technology faculty, and five of them are in leadership positions—Dr. Bahar Zoghi, acting assistant dean; Professor Orla LoPiccolo, chair of Architecture and Construction Management; Professor Marjaneh Issapour, director of FSC’s Renewable Energy and Sustainability Center; Dr. Jeanne Radigan, chair of Aviation; and Dr. Gonca Altuger-Genc, graduate program coordinator.
“I picked engineering because buildings and bridges fascinated me, and math and physics were my favorite subjects,” Zoghi says. “As I continued in the engineering field, I became even more captivated with all that engineers do. They solve all sorts of problems.”
But women historically have not entered STEM fields in large numbers – even when they’ve earned a STEM degree. That’s according to a 2017 report on women in the STEM workforce and academia by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Christe believes it’s possible to improve those figures, especially at an applied science and technology college such as Farmingdale, where women faculty members not only teach, but serve as role models to their female students. She recalls what it was like sitting in a classroom seat when she first thought of engineering as a viable career.
“I struggled to identify a college major when I was finishing high school,” she says. “My academic interests and talents were aligned with engineering disciplines, but I worried about the career options after graduation. Few other women were in engineering at the time. In fact, the engineering building on my college campus did not have women’s restrooms. But the coursework resonated with me and joining a class of all-male learners became routine.”
That’s a familiar story for women who pursued STEM education. LoPiccolo also remembers that her passion for science motivated her. “
I entered architecture because I have always enjoyed design and science,” she says. “Becoming an architect was the perfect mix of those areas for me.”
And for Issapour, who heads FSC’s initiatives in energy renewal, pursuing STEM was like joining the family business. Her father was a successful engineer and her mother was a chemist. One of Christe’s goals is to increase participation of women in STEM fields above its current rate of 21 percent.
No doubt, she will be able to engineer that.