Winter 2016 GVMagazine - (Page 24)
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
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,
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
"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
"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
national average of
of the 13 professors
who teach mechanical
engineering at GVSU
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Winter 2016 GVMagazine
A Team of Their Own
Empowered. Educated. Engineers.
Breathing Life into Historic Sites
Q&A Snell and Stanton
Off the Path
Winter 2016 GVMagazine