By Douglas Esser
At times in her life Chantel Frizzell has had the experience of walking into a room full of engineers and seeing no other women except perhaps for a secretary.
As a senior in computer science and software engineering (CSSE) at the University of Washington Bothell, Frizzell wants to do something about the shortage of women engineers. “It’s glaringly obvious there aren’t that many,” Frizzell said.
Frizzell was one of about 20 women students from the School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics who took part in a Women in Engineering Trek, sponsored by the School of STEM and UW Bothell Career Services. The Jan. 19 trek took the students to Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems in Kirkland, an aerospace company, and the Bellevue office of SAP Concur, which provides business travel and expense management services.
"I think this trek helped our female students understand that engineering and computing companies want to and do employ women,” said Michael Kimball-Bryant, graduate career counselor in the School of STEM. “It was nice for them to see companies who are female-friendly."
SAP Concur regularly brings in UW Bothell students as interns who may later become full-time employees, said Taylor Knott, SAP iXp events lead. Having women as part of diverse teams is good for innovation, growth and customer satisfaction, Knott said.
“We believe that women in tech play a huge role in fulfilling this vision, bringing powerful insight and perspective into our product as well as our culture,” Knott said.
SAP Concur could be seeing more of Sneha Ravichandran, another CSSE senior on the trek who now plans to apply for its internship program.
The trek “helped me gain a better understanding of engineering and the different kinds of applications it has to these very different companies,” said Ravichandran, who is interested in artificial intelligence-machine learning and biotechnology and wants “to see how far machines can evolve from what we have now.”
To see more women in engineering is a professional goal and personal passion for Frizzell who says she grew up in a traditional family in the Johannesburg area of South Africa. Although her father is an engineer, there was no expectation she would go to college.
“My brothers had to take math and science. As a girl, I wasn’t required to take those classes. I wasn’t expected to know anything about it,” Frizzell said. “It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it; I didn’t know it was an option.”
After high school, Frizzell wanted a year away and took a job as an au pair in New York City with a host family where both women and men worked as professionals. “I started to realize women could do so much more.”
Frizzell applied for U.S. residency, started studying and moved to Seattle where she fell in love with the tech environment. She transferred from North Seattle College to UW Bothell.
For nearly the past year, Frizzell also has been an intern at Avanade, a global company based in Seattle that provides consulting services focused on the Microsoft platform. After she graduates in June, she’s been offered a full-time job there as a solutions developer for software engineering.
Meanwhile, Frizzell and two other CSSE students are developing an app that would work as a social inclusion network, connecting women from high school through college and into careers. The goal is to create a community of women in computer science “so you can see people like yourself more often, so you know you belong here.”
By the way, Frizzell and her husband have two daughters, ages 4 and 8.
“I’ve been working and being a mom and studying and building an app and just trying to build a future so my daughters can choose a career according to what they want to do as opposed to societal pressure,” Frizzell said.