WSU alumna promotes equality in engineering education

From staff reports

In 1978, Amy Freeman was a freshman at Washington State University studying as a construction management major in classrooms dominated by white male students. Thirty-seven years later, she would revolutionize the culture of women in education.

Freeman was awarded the 2015 Council of College Multicultural Leadership Way Paver Award for her efforts in supporting underrepresented groups on campuses. She is currently working on the other side of the country as Pennsylvania State University’s assistant dean of engineering diversity.

Part of her work involves helping women, low income and first generation college students gain access to education fields, such as engineering. Freeman has also led several programs at Penn State targeted towards building inclusive communities among women students.

“Girls can feel very isolated when they go to class, so we have a three-day orientation program where 200 first-year women meet and are introduced to 60 older engineering students,” Freeman said. “There, the girls learn that they aren’t alone and that they’re part of a larger community of women.”

The orientation program has already been proven to increase success and graduation rates for women at Penn State.

“When I look at women engineers today compared to 1978, it’s like night and day,” Freeman said.

Freeman finds that it is crucial for students to form communities around them in order to be successful. Much of her inspiration for strong community building stems from her experiences she had during her time as a WSU student.

“I made a lot of good friends and there were so many good people there who went out of their way to build community,” Freeman said. “At WSU, I learned that you can create community with anyone. All you need is one other person to create a friendship.”

Besides forming communities on campus, Freeman also advocates international education—believing it exposes students to new ideas and perspectives. Over the years, she has traveled around the globe to exotic locations with her students and took part in a variety of programs. She plans to take group of students to Peru this May.

“Every place offers wonderful, different experiences,” Freeman said. “My favorite part is when I see students have a ‘ah-ha’ moment realizing that the world is so much bigger.”

Freeman said her most memorable trip was when she and a group of students from all majors came together to innovate new solutions for problems in poor countries and create a plan to execute their solution. Students came up with ideas ranging from easy-to-build greenhouses to inexpensive medical kits. Freeman and the group later took those solutions and traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to help their communities with the new ideas.

“It was wonderful to watch the way they changed a person’s life. That’s what makes these trips so great. To go someplace else and help someone,” Freeman said.

Similar to many female students at WSU, Freeman once looked out the window from her dorm on the 13th floor of Stephenson North and saw the great big world. Now she is changing it by helping students build communities and pursue an education.

“Having a college degree changed my life, and I really appreciate WSU for that,” Freeman said.

Reported by Minna Lee