Female BYU engineer rises above gender stereotypes


BYU mechanical engineering senior Carlie Shields doesn’t let being a woman in a male-dominated major hold her back.

Shields is studying mechanical engineering with a focus in aerospace and wants to build airplanes.

Shields is the former president and current vice president of BYU’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and recently accepted a job working on jet engines with Honeywell International Inc. She said her experience as a female engineer is vastly different from that of female students in other majors because of the assumption that only men are engineers.

Shields said her fascination with all things aviation stems from her grandfather, who was a U.S. Air Force engineer.

“He said, ‘Hey, you know engineers actually build airplanes’ and I had no idea,” Shields said.

Her parents were very supportive of her decision, according to Shields. She remembers her mother saying, “Alright, right on. You better get good grades.”

Shields was accepted into BYU, but said she encountered a different atmosphere here than she did in her native state of Georgia, where she said the thought of being a female engineer is more common.

The world of engineering is only 10 percent female, according to Shields. She said she could feel that influence on the BYU campus.

Shields said she is often asked, “How do you plan on having a family?” when people find out her career choice.

She remembers an instance when one of her professors told an engineering class they would “all make great husbands,”  but Shields didn’t let the thought of every engineer being a man phase her.

Shields said she isn’t trying to make any waves. She is just trying to create a level playing field, though a women’s bathroom in the basement of the Clyde Building would be useful, she said while laughing.

Shields’ success is because of her hard work and determination, according to mechanical engineering professor Dale Tree.

“Whenever I went to the TA labs, I would always see her there working with other students,” Tree said.

Julie Crockett, another of Shield’s professors and one of the few female staff members in the engineering department, said Shields’ love of engineering showed in her outreach to younger students.

“When I brought around a group of high school students and she showed them her lab, it was one of their favorite stops,” Shields said. “She can organize things in her head that are complex and get them across more simply to high school students that don’t have the background she has in aerodynamics.”

Crockett said outreach similar to Shields’ may be a way to help increase the number of female engineers in the world.

“That’s what I love about what Carlie has done with outreach to high school students,” Crockett said. “By the time you’re in college, it’s a lot harder to all of a sudden change your mind and decide you want to do engineering.”

Crockett described Shields as a role model for incoming students and a caring person. Crockett said when she was grading final exams, she found a treat waiting on her desk from Shields to help ease the experience.

Shields advises women working toward a career in the sciences to go for it.

“Be comfortable in who you are and what you’re doing, and just own it,” Shields said.

Shields said she is happy to move forward and fulfill her dream of building airplanes with her experience as one of the few female engineering students at BYU.

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