Student spotlight: Girls eager to enter engineering field

Maya Manchester, left, and Claudia Alant. (Michaela Killgallen/For Your Niskayuna)Maya Manchester, left, and Claudia Alant. (Michaela Killgallen/For Your Niskayuna)

BY Michaela Kilgallen
For Your Niskayuna

NISKAYUNA — In the uphill battle that women face in engineering, Niskayuna High School students Claudia Alant and Maya Manchester are proving that gender limits can be overcome.

Alant, the recipient of a $375 scholarship, certificate of merit and the outstanding achievement award, and Manchester, winner of a certificate of merit, all from the NYS Capital District section of the Society of Women Engineers, have big plans for the future and they don’t intend on letting the male-dominated nature of their chosen career field keep them down.

“There’s always a very competitive side to boys, but I almost like that because it forces us to be more competitive,” Alant said. “At the banquet, a lot of the women were like ‘Don’t even back down from the boys.’ You know how they say ‘Ignore them, don’t even listen?’ ” Alant said.

“Don’t ignore them,” Manchester added, “fight with them.”

Alant and Manchester, both juniors, were nominated by their teachers for their interest and potential in the field of engineering. The girls said they weren’t aware of their nominations until they received a congratulatory email from the Society of Women Engineers.

“It really piqued my interest because I had never heard of it,” Manchester said. “I knew women engineers were lacking, but I didn’t think there were societies for them.”

Alant was also surprised by the strong network of female professionals in the science/technology/engineering/mathematics field, popularly known as STEM. “I was so happy,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find women engineers.”

Aside from the certificates, the girls also benefited greatly from the networking opportunities that the awards banquet provided.

“Some wanted me to shadow them,” Alant said. “So many engineers love what they do. When you step inside the realm of engineering, you can really change the world.”

Although the girls are enthusiastic about engineering and the opportunities that the career can offer, they have noticed not too many other girls share their perspective.

Manchester recalled as an example that she was the only girl out of 40 kids at a computer science camp. “A lot of people get deterred,” she said. “It can drive you nuts sometimes.”

She also found that many students — girls, but also boys — see a stigma of uncoolness attached to STEM studies. “If only women in engineering weren’t so underrepresented,” Manchester said. “I want to say to them ‘Listen, this is so cool!’ ”

Alant and Manchester say the Niskayuna Central School District has molded them into the successful scholars that they are today. “Niskayuna is full of driven students,” Alant said. “Instead of passing a test, you want to ace it.”

The students are also pushed by their teachers, including Rich DeSimoney. “Mr. DeSimoney will use real-world examples,” Alant said. “It makes you realize that what you are doing is meaningful.”

When she is not in computer science classes, Manchester is an athlete, playing on both the varsity lacrosse and field hockey teams. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and plays viola. Alant is a member of the National Honor Society as well. She plays varsity tennis and the piano.

In the future, both girls plan to attend college. Manchester’s dream job is computer programmer at Microsoft, and Alant hopes to be a biomechanical engineer.

They understand that hard work is the only way to achieve their goals. “It’s all about how much you put into it,” Manchester said. “If you apply yourself, you can really change a lot,”

Despite all the pressures and difficulties of pursuing STEM careers, Alant and Manchester know that they can rely on one another for support and inspiration.

“It’s really reassuring to have Maya,” Alant said. “I know that even if I am the only girl in my class, there’s always going to be Maya in the parallel class. She’s going through what I’m going through.”

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.