UI student proposes statue of female engineer on campus


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URBANA — Nothing against "Grainger Bob," but what about "Grainger Jane?"

On the University of Illinois' engineering campus, where men are the majority (among students, faculty and hall-of-fame inductees), a student has proposed that the college install a statue of a female engineer to welcome current students and prospective ones, including those attending events like today's engineering open house.

"It will show our commitment as a community to promote women in engineering and serve as a reminder to current students that we support their goals and that they belong in engineering," said Sakshi Srivastava, a UI junior studying electrical and computer engineering.

The international student from Allahabad, India, created an online petition and helped develop resolutions that the Illinois Student Senate and Academic Senate have supported. Those resolutions ask the College of Engineering to create a committee to explore possible locations and candidates for a statue.

"Some people think this whole thing is a competition to 'Grainger Bob,' but it's not," she said. "It's something for women in engineering, women who want to be engineers, women who want to bring change."

"Grainger Bob" is the nickname given to the bronze statue of a young man sitting outside the south entrance of the Grainger Engineering Library. The sculpture by J. Seward Johnson depicts a man reading the book "Computing for the Future."

The idea for a statue of a female en- gineer came to Srivastava last summer, after she read an article about how public art can reflect the thoughts of a community and foster unity.

Last fall, she approached the Illinois Student Senate and introduced a resolution that expresses support for a statue on the engineering campus. And earlier this week, the Academic Senate — a body of faculty, students and some staff — reviewed a similar resolution. Both bodies approved the statement and it has been forwarded to Engineering Dean Andreas Cangellaris.

"Knowing I'm a part of an institution where my voice is heard, it's a great feeling," Srivastava said.

"We're very proud of Saskhi's determination. ... I think it's nice (the proposal) is coming from a student," said Marie-Christine Brunet, assistant dean for undergraduate programs.

Brunet also teaches in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Srivastava's home department. There, women make up 10 percent of undergraduates.

"The guys in my program are amazing; all the people there are wonderful. You just don't see many girls," Srivastava said.

The college does support many programs to encourage women in engineering, such as summer camps for girls in high school.

"Everybody is trying really hard. There are no reasons why women should not pursue engineering," Brunet said. "It's a slow process, but we're going to get there."

Srivastava said her initial idea was for a statue to be erected near the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building being built south of the Beckman Institute. But she said she could support a location anywhere on the engineering campus.

What the statue will look like (whether she could be a general female, alumna or accomplished engineer), as well as the material (bronze, stone, etc.) and cost, is not yet known.

"I don't think the statue will be erected tomorrow. It will take some time," Brunet said. "Raising this kind of money not happen overnight."

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To see Sakshi Srivastava's online petition for a statue of a female engineer, please go to http://bit.ly/1giiKnc.