Sandy Saab Launches Student Organization for ECE Graduate Students

Tuesday, May 5, 2020 - 10:30am

Only 13 percent of engineers in the workforce are women, according to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). The same analysis shows that over 32 percent of women switch out of STEM degree programs in college. Encouragement and support for women in STEM fields has grown in the past few years; however, there’s still work to be done to continue building an environment where female engineers can flourish.

Texas ECE and WNCG student Sandy Saab is doing her best to be a part of that effort.

Saab is a graduate research assistant in Prof. Robert Heath’s Wireless Systems Innovations Lab. Last month, she launched Electrical Longhorn Ladies in Engineering (ELLE), an organization aimed at ECE students at the graduate level. A play on the French word for the feminine pronoun (“elle”), the group’s name evokes the images of women encompassing a variety of roles.

Saab explained, “It’s the mother, the sister, the advisor, the counselor, the doctor and the engineer.” She wants the organization to help women become “fearless leaders and motivators.”

Saab came up with the idea for ELLE when looking for resources to aid in her own academic growth. Female-focused student groups do exist in the department, but she found that they tended to overwhelmingly be marketed to and attract undergrads. As a natural consequence, the groups’ events and resources mainly focus on a much earlier point of academic development than was helpful for Saab—a second-year Ph.D. student with a B.Eng, M.E. and work experience already under her belt.

The lack of a group dedicated to graduate students’ specific needs led Saab to start her own. “As graduate students, we have a vision of what we want [for the future],” Saab says. However, there’s a disconnect between the technical skills gained during a Master’s or Ph.D. and the workplace proficiencies necessary for a job in industry. In Saab’s opinion, they don’t always get ample preparation for soft skills such as pitching an idea, connecting with companies, or communicating effectively.

According to SWE’s analysis, only 30 percent of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still working in engineering 20 years later. Perhaps a little more support to bridge that gap in the early stages of an engineer’s career would help decrease the number of women leaving the field.

“I want to create the appropriate atmosphere to help graduates become the best version of themselves,” Saab stated.

With that objective in mind, Saab connected with three other WNCG students with similar views—Ezgi Tekgul, Monica Ribero, and Rebecca Adaimi—and the idea for ELLE was born. Saab serves as president, Tekgul as vice president, Ribero as corporate chair, and Adaimi as treasurer.

“ELLE still has a long way to go, [but] it has been great so far,” Saab reflected. “[Tekgul, Ribero and Adaimi] are extremely talented and motivated ladies, which makes the journey together very exciting. People are truly moved and happy about our organization.”

Though still in early development, the group has taken steps to connect with the Women in Engineering Program (WEP), Texas ECE graduate coordinators, and key faculty members to help form a vision for the group’s future. “[And] we have the support of our inspiring [ECE Department] Chairwoman, Prof. Diana Marculescu.”

ELLE’s inaugural meeting took place at the end of February and featured a cookies and coffee hour with Prof. Marculescu. The group’s goals for the immediate future include expanding membership—including recruiting a secretary and a social media chair—as well as connecting with more sponsors.

Saab envisions a wide range of events from networking socials to training events. At the February meeting, Saab emphasized that the group is open to all ECE students, not just women.

“ELLE is not an organization that [is exclusive to] women only. We want to help them and empower them but we also want men to engage with our events,” she said, reiterating that allyship is key to achieving the goals of the group. “We want to build a strong community to help our organization develop over the years to come.”

Any students interested in joining the group can contact Saab at elle.ut.president@gmail.com.