Winter 2016 GVMagazine - (Page 24)

Empowered. Educated. Engineers. Women narrow gender gap by Leah Twilley Sofia Fanourakis broke a lot of things as a child, but for a good reason. She broke them so she could put them back together, to see how the pieces fit and worked with each other. Perhaps that was the first sign she would become an engineer and go on to work at NASA while attending Grand Valley. Or maybe it is because she grew up with like-minded thinkers, as many of her family members are engineers or computer scientists.  Fanourakis, an electrical engineering major and native of Crete, Greece, is part of a population that is succeeding in a field often populated by men. Women who are Grand Valley alumnae, faculty members and students are breaking traditional barriers and closing the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.  Standouts at Steelcase, NASA Leah Olsen, '07, is going on eight years as a product design engineer for Steelcase, working in the seating and product development department. From an early age, she thought engineering was about working on cars and getting dirty. "So I thought maybe I'll become an architect because I enjoy drawing and art," said Olsen, a native of Ohio. Tag-alongs with her dad, who is an electrical engineer, to wire houses showed her a different side of engineering. 24 Winter '16 "I was really drawn to a mix of art and math," she said. "As a student, I remember thinking about the idea of designing and building consumer products. When a piece of a pen doesn't work, I wondered, 'Who made that design decision and why?' A lot of it is the design, but it's the engineering that goes into it and the tests and trials that make a product perfect." Today, Olsen develops chairs for educational and office settings. She makes test specifications and works with a lab and model shop to create prototypes for testing. She has engineered chairs that are now used at Grand Valley and has conducted site testing on the Allendale Campus. At any given time, she could be working on three or four projects. And sometimes she does get her hands dirty. "After a product is launched, we'll need to make small changes here and there, so I visit the plant and factory to figure out what the problem is," she said. Olsen said Grand Valley prepared her for the workforce. "You can memorize formulas or Google answers easily, but you have to learn how to apply knowledge, manage time, approach problems and push yourself to your limit. My professors taught me how to really deeply think about things," she said. Like Olsen, Fanourakis moved to Michigan to attend Grand Valley. She 12.4% national average of women engineering faculty members more than half of the 13 professors who teach mechanical engineering at GVSU are women

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Winter 2016 GVMagazine

Campus News
Focal Point
Donor Impact
A Team of Their Own
Meijer Campus
Empowered. Educated. Engineers.
Breathing Life into Historic Sites
Q&A Snell and Stanton
Alumni News
Off the Path

Winter 2016 GVMagazine