Morgan DiCarlo, 20, showcases a smile and a concrete canoe as she and other teammates sand it down for the upcoming ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition this month. DiCarlo is confident it will hold everyone and stay afloat. (Photo Credit: Janelle Clausen. March 30, 2015.)
By Janelle Clausen
Arts & Features Editor
Morgan DiCarlo is a cheerful crusader in closing the engineering gender gap.
Women made up only three percent of engineers in 1970 and inched up to 13 percent today, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, with most growth concentrating in the 70s and 80s. Data from the National Girl’s Collaborative Project, meanwhile, shows that males are still six times more likely to have taken an engineering course.
“Mechanical engineering 101 was really striking,” DiCarlo said. “It was a class of 150 students and I could count on two hands how many girls were in that room.” Her civil and environmental engineering class, DiCarlo added, had “a much better” ratio: of 17 students, 6 were girls.
But DiCarlo, 20, a junior civil engineering major and business management minor, seeks to close massive gender gaps like these. Her answer is a three-generational pipeline involving hands-on learning and mentorship. Encouragement and role models combined with practical and fun hands-on learning, DiCarlo said, could help prevent girls from falling out early on.
With the American Society of Civil Engineers giving America’s infrastructure- an underlying economic driver in everything, DiCarlo noted- a grade of D+, getting everyone into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) has never been so vital.
“Not only do we need more women, but we need more students in general in STEM,” DiCarlo said. “But considering how underrepresented women are, they’re a giant resource to tap into to start pushing people into this aspect of the workforce.”
She didn’t wait long. As a freshman, she had already began her research, developed a full curriculum for middle and high schoolers, won the Grand Prize of the Advancing Aspirations Global Scholarship and became a panelist at the Global Women’s Initiative conference.
But since then she became the founding president of SBU’s American Society of Civil Engineers chapter, Civil Engineering Outreach Coordinator for the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program and a member of the Intreprid Museum’s STEM advisory board- to name a few- and helped inspire dozens, and possibly hundreds of girls through seminars, workshops and mentoring.
“All these things she’s doing- her studies, her research, her service activities- they’re all focused on having an impact on the world, whether it be dealing with environmental issues through engineering approaches or trying to improve the diversity of engineering and STEM workforce,” said Dr. Harold Walker, SBU’s civil engineering program director and her faculty advisor. “She’s very driven by making a difference.”
A recent venture involved the WISE girls from Comsewogue High School. DiCarlo taught them about building bridges with nothing but straws, tape and suspension (one bridge held 500 pennies of weight). Students also learned about water filters, design software and possible STEM careers. Prior to the program, some said, they didn’t quite know what civil engineering was.
But she fed student curiosity since day one, always willing to answer student questions- like how major monuments like the Taj Mahal and Burj Khalifa were built.
“We were just naming random buildings that we knew of, and we were interested in how they were built,” said Anushka Ray, 15, a sophomore considering biomedical engineering. “She went into detail and even though she had a powerpoint ready, she looked up separate images on Google for us and how they were built.”
“Morgan’s a really good teacher,” confirmed Erica Hickey, 15, who is now considering taking a formal course in civil engineering. “She’s really patient and she always answers all our questions. She makes civil engineering fun and exciting.”
Carrie-Ann Miller, the director of the WISE program, explained that WISE looks at pre-college activities and could accept very few students. In 2014, the year after DiCarlo came to Stony Brook, WISE selected only 60 to 70 students among over 4,000 applications in 2014. And yet DiCarlo has stood as an exception even among the exceptional.
“She holds her own with people her age, younger, older, professionals,” Miller said.
But a defining moment, where everything came together, happened just before DiCarlo’s TEDxSBU talk. Miller set up a mock TED talk to show over 90 students- mostly freshmen in WISE- “what they could be doing.” When DiCarlo delivered, Miller remembered the looks on everyone’s faces. “All her friends, all these students were just blown away by what she had to say,” Miller said.
The regular talk went pretty well too.
“After she did the TED talk, I started getting calls from my friends all over campus: ‘Do you know Morgan DiCarlo, do you know Morgan DiCarlo?’” Miller recalled.
Beyond her leadership and speeches she is a collaborator who consistently volunteers. DiCarlo opted to mentor at a school she has never been to, applied for extra internships (she’d otherwise be working two jobs, she noted), would pour concrete for building of a concrete canoe and draft plans in establishing the Stony Brook’s ASCE chapter.
“Not only is she a great leader,” Walker said, “she’s a great team member.”
DiCarlo’s early life reflects what she has helped create in others. She was exposed to STEM early on and, as she noted in her TEDxSBU talk, her family fostered “the mind of an engineer.” Her sister, an actuary, and her mother, an educator, were inspirations. Combined with exposure to engineering in school and time in the chess club, this has apparently been a formula for success.
“She never thought she couldn’t do it,” Miller said. “She never thought it wasn’t an option.”
And just how does she do it?
“She comes in to get her boxes of stuff for her class,” Miller said, “and she’s really just always smiling.”