Two Women Find Niche in RCC Engineering Program
Behind every product on the market is a schematic, or a drawing, that allows the product to be manufactured and distributed to the masses. These drawings originate with mechanical engineers, who are skilled thinkers and problem solvers.
At Richmond Community College (RCC), Mechanical Engineering Technology instructor Annie Smith is educating the next wave of mechanical engineers, and she is encouraging other females to follow in her footsteps and break through the gender barrier that often intimidates women from entering the engineering field.
“The Mechanical Engineering Technology workforce has a growing demand for qualified people — for men and women,” Smith said. “I encourage females to not be intimidated by the word ‘mechanical.’ It’s not related to working with mechanics alone. It is designing mechanical parts, testing materials, and completing CAD working drawings for manufacturing of a product.”
Graduates of the program can pursue careers a mechanical engineering technician, product and process engineer, systems engineer, drafter, CAD (Computer Aided Design) operator or design engineer, to name a few.
Just having a CAD certificate is a highly valued skill, Smith said.
“You can earn $13 per hour in surrounding areas with a CAD certificate alone,” Smith said. “Depending on your location, you can make as much as $48,000 a year with a two-year degree in mechanical engineering, and much more with a four-year degree.”
Product of RCC
A native of Rockingham, Smith is a product of RCC’s mechanical engineering program. As a student at Richmond Senior High School, she had strong interests in art, drafting and electronics. When an RCC recruiter talked to her about the Mechanical Engineering Technology program, she knew it would incorporate all three of her strengths and put her on a career path that suited her.
Smith found herself in a program with few women and many men. At first, she felt she had to prove her ability, but she realized quickly that the guys were very accepting of her and treated her like any other engineering student.
“I realized that the whole time it was me that needed to get over the fear of being in a male dominated program and trust my own ability,” Smith said. “I formed great friendships that continue today with guys that I studied with and worked with.”
After completing the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at RCC, Smith transferred to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
2+2= Four-Year Degree
“I hadn’t thought of transferring to a four-year college until I was approached by my fellow students and a former instructor, Dr. Henson, about attending UNC. I immediately thought, ‘How am I going to pay for that,’ but I stepped out on faith and completed the UNCC application and attended with the aid of student loans,” she said.
RCC has an articulation agreement with UNC-Charlotte that makes Mechanical Engineering Technology a 2+2 program. This allows Mechanical Engineering Technology graduates from RCC to transfer to UNC-Charlotte and continue at a junior level, putting them on track to complete a bachelor’s degree the remaining two years.
Smith returned to RCC to become an instructor because of her love for the College and the Mechanical Engineering Technology program.
One of Smith’s high school classmates is now a student of hers. Apprile Mabe of Hamlet enrolled in mechanical engineering at RCC to challenge herself with a program that required strong math and science skills. Smith and Mabe met in art club in high school, so this was a new realm for her.
Drawing on Art Skills
Like Smith, however, Mabe found her artistic skills and creativity to be beneficial in many of her engineering classes such as CAD. Her nearly 20 years experience in the retail and service industry also helped be a good troubleshooter and inventive thinker.
“A lot of people, especially women, are going to judge this program by its name. They think ‘mechanical’ means, ‘I got to get greasy and smell like oil all the time.’ But that’s not what mechanical engineering is. It’s about being creative and having an open mind for learning how things work, fixing things and making things operate more efficiently,” Mabe said. “I know a lot of people who work in retail who would be excellent candidates for this program because they’re good problem solvers and troubleshooters.”
Mabe has also been surprised how quickly she has grasped the concepts. She credits her instructors for connecting the dots from classroom to real world.
“They really make it easy to understand everything. They explain how these skills you learn in the classroom can be used in the workforce and used to get different types of jobs,” Mabe said.
Mabe has one more class to take this fall semester to complete the Mechanical Engineering Technology program, but she is not through building her repertoire of engineering skills. Her goal is to diversify her skills so she will be highly valued by employers in a number of different fields.
Skills for Life
As for Smith, she wants to encourage more people to enter RCC’s many engineering programs so that they can accomplish their life goals.
“I am a result of RCC, and I want to give my ability and time to continue the tradition of what RCC has to offer through the Mechanical Engineering Technology program. Teaching these type of skills is one more step to removing unemployment, housing the homeless, and instilling confidence in one more person who seeks a change in their life,” Smith said.