UI grad student hopes new statue engineers change in attitudes


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URBANA — It's taken some time, but Sakshi Srivastava's determination to get a statue honoring women in engineering on the University of Illinois campus is finally paying off.

The life-size statue, a gift from Texas Instruments, is scheduled to be unveiled at its home on the east side of the Micro and Nano-technology Laboratory, 208 N. Wright St., with a ceremony at 2:15 p.m. today.

Srivastava, a graduate student in electrical engineering who started working on a campaign to install a female statue as an undergraduate student, will be a speaker at the unveiling ceremony.

An international student from Allahabad, India, Srivastava was a junior at the UI when she began her campaign to get a statue on campus to help inspire women going into the male-dominated engineering field. Her efforts included launching an online petition drive and helping draft resolutions that were supported by the Illinois Student Senate and Academic Senate.

She made it clear from the start, this was never about just adding a female statue counterpart to the male statue nicknamed "Grainger Bob" outside the UI's Grainger Engineering Library.

"I think my hope for the statue is to let women, young women as well as women still in their engineering program or in the industry, know that they belong in engineering, that we can fulfill our dreams in a changing world in creating better technology," she said. "Not just women in the Urbana-Champaign region, not just women in Illinois, but all across the world, that you should believe in your dreams, that Illinois supports their dream."

The statue, which has been named "The Quintessential Engineer," is the work of Chicago sculptor Julie Rotblatt-Amrany.

The statue's face has an expression "of wonder, exploration and knowledge, one of curiosity and perseverance," she said. "She represents a multi-racial female, a young professional woman at work, always thinking on the move."

Rotblatt-Amrany said she used the hexagon shape in the granite base as a repeated form in the natural world.

"It is precision engineering in nature, similar to our DNA, honeycombs, snowflakes, bubble rafts, carbon, etc.," she said. "The shapes are turning and morphing into circuit boards, next into books, then into folds of her pants. She holds an iPad, manipulating a flexible screen of the future. The image is one of waves. It could be sound waves, water waves, light waves and wave particles, interstellar communication, radar satellite. It's up to the viewer's imagination."

Rotblatt-Amrany has designed many other well-known statues, among them Michael Jordan (with her husband, Omri Amrany) and Scottie Pippen, both housed at the United Center in Chicago, and a bas relief bronze of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.

Women continue to remain a minority at engineering schools and in the engineering workforce.

According to the Society of Women Engineers, more than 20 percent of the engineering school graduates are women but only 11 percent of practicing engineers are female. Plus, 30 percent of women who leave the profession give workplace climate as their reason.

At the UI, close to 20 percent of engineering graduate students are women, according to U.S. News and World Report's Quick Stats on Best Engineering Schools.

Illinois Engineering spokesman Bill Bell said the UI's Women in Engineering program offers several visit opportunities for students considering engineering at Illinois and camps for girls in junior high and high school. It also offers programming for students once they're enrolled to help them succeed.

"That's been critical to the growth in the number of women in the class," he said.

The new statue at the UI celebrates female engineers and their contributions to bettering the world through engineering, said UI College of Engineering Dean Andreas Cangellaris.

"For the past several years, Engineering at Illinois has worked hard to increase the diversity of both our students and faculty, especially the number of women who choose engineering as their profession," he said. "We very much appreciate this gift from Texas Instruments as it reflects their interest and support for these efforts."

Srivastava, who hopes to finish her master's degree in December, then start work on her doctorate, said she knows many women still tend to see engineering as a man's profession. She hopes they'll see the statue and think again, "that people will see a role model in her," she said.

Go figure

Counting UI female engineering students:

55% — Growth in the number of women in the freshman engineering class since 2013.

27% — Women in current freshman engineering class.

25% — Women anticipated to be part of next year's freshman engineering class.

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