Taking a different role: Women plan to study in male-dominated fields


Senior Emma Kaulbach works on her truck

Kaitlin Fischer, Staff Writer

To their left, a boy. To their right, a boy. This fall, senior Emma Kaulbach and senior Christine Leu will study in classrooms where they might be outnumbered by male students. They are both choosing to study in male-dominated fields – mechanics and chemical engineering, respectively.

Kaulbach decided she wanted to study mechanics when she was 14 years old. After buying a ‘78 Chevy Nova, she worked to restore it with the help of a family friend. She liked having the hands-on experience while learning.

“It just kind of happened,” Kaulbach said. “Growing up I wasn’t into cars. Then I got that car and I was like, ‘I like working on cars.’”

She took Automotive Technology her junior year and is in Advanced Automotive Technology this year. Kaulbach has had the opportunity to work on her own car in the class and has painted her other car, a ‘77 Chevy Nova, pink. She is planning to attend Lincoln College of Technology after high school and get an associate degree in master diesel mechanics and truck technology. During the 18-month program, Kaulbach will prepare to get her Authorized Service Center certification.

She feels that working in Automotive Technology has prepared her for the program. After college she plans on working her way up to owning her own business.

“If you ask any mechanic they’ll all say they want their own shop,” Kaulbach said. “I want to work in a garage, maybe a dealership for a bunch of years and learn the business. On the side, I want to go to community college and get a business degree. If everything works out then I would want to open my own shop, if it’s ever a possibility. I just want to work my way up.”

Leu plans to study chemical engineering at Cornell University. Her interest in chemistry first led her towards it and when she sat in on a chemical engineering class at the University of Texas at Austin, she said she knew she wanted to go into it. She wants to eventually help the environment through her studies.

“I just think working at a subatomic level is really fascinating,” Leu said. “It helps me understand why things work. Why water is how water is. In a way it is an eye-opener and in another way it’s inspiring. I can link that to the environmental field, which I ultimately want to go into. Everything relates to one big picture.”

The majority of students who choose to study engineering are male, but Leu grew up with an older brother who she believes allowed her to grow accustomed to male company.

“Sometimes it’s discouraging,” Leu said. “In physics last year, it felt like the guys got it a lot easier than the girls. It was discouraging. Like, ‘Why can’t I do this right?’ I think inevitably that’s going to happen sometimes as I’m in engineering in college. For me, if I’m confused or uneasy on a subject I’m always one to go pester them and ask.”

Leu will apply to study chemical engineering in her second year of college after studying general engineering her first year. Rather than seeing its male-dominated aspect as a downside she said she thinks having a lot of guys in the same field will be beneficial for her because the college wants more females.

“I know they try to get some girls too,” Leu said. “I think I won’t be competing directly with all of the guys, but maybe with my own gender.”

Kaulbach doesn’t mind working with guys in her chosen field and is used to it because all of the students in her auto tech class are male. Because she believes guys are physically stronger than girls, Kaulbach views working with guys as a positive thing. She said no matter what, she will eventually find her place.

“Maybe studying something else would be less of a challenge because it’s so different I feel like I have to push harder to prove myself,” Kaulbach said. “That’s the thing. Most guys think that a girl can’t do it as well. I feel like you have to earn your place more.”