Global Grand Challenges: August Frechette

At the Global Grand Challenges Summit, August Frechette, E18, reflected on the persistent gender gap in STEM fields.
Lincoln Memorial
While attending the summit, August Frechette visited the Lincoln Memorial. (Photo courtesy August Frechette)

By August Frechette

If someone were to ask you what the greatest challenges facing humanity are, your response may pertain to global warming, famine, the water crisis, or the wave of superbugs that have become resistant to our antibioticsand understandably so, as I also find myself depressingly aware of the reality of these issues.

The purpose of the Global Grand Challenges Summit was to identify a comprehensive list of what experts in the fields of engineering consider to be the most pressing challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, and to inspire the students of today to address those challenges. Interestingly enough, however, the students at the summit did not travel to Washington, D.C. hoping to be told what tomorrow’s issues are. Rather, they came to the summit with their own list of priorities.

At the top of that list were two topics that I myself hold near and dear: the astonishingly large gap in understanding and communication between policy and engineering, and the fact that, at the industries' current rates of employment, gender parity is downright laughable in regards to mechanical engineering, computer-related occupations, and other STEM fields.

Sitting at the summit, I realized that I had become passive on the issue of gender parity. I had forgotten the very reason why I found engineering to be such a motivating challenge. I was used to having male professors and being in classrooms with a large male presence, especially in physics. So when most of the keynote speakers at the conference were male, I wasn’t surprised or upset.

But then questions were raised by the summit participants and I realized: there we were, trying to address the greatest challenges facing the world today, and gender parity wasn’t one of them.

My takeaway from the conference? Stay upset.

August Frechette is a rising senior from Woodstock, Connecticut, majoring in mechanical engineering.