The Women of the College of Engineering
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
According to the Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness at Virginia Tech, only 21 percent of the incoming freshmen at the College of Engineering are identified as female. Considering that Virginia Tech “supplies more than 50 percent of the engineers to Virginia’s workforce,” the importance of increasing representation is clear now more than ever. Yet, there are countless women at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering that have overcome societal limitations and have broken the glass ceiling.
No matter how determined, it would be impossible to capture all the grace and excellence of every high-achieving, female, engineering Hokie one short article, but Victoria Hardy, Ashley Girod, and Kimberly Ikediobi are some of the many women that come to mind.
Hardy, a sophomore double majoring in mechanical engineering and computer science, was raised by two engineers in Williamsburg, VA. After visiting Virginia Tech and witnessing the hands-on design and research opportunities and talented professors in the College of Engineering, Hardy knew that being a Hokie engineer would set her up for achieving her goals. Living in Hypatia Living Learning Community, she was surrounded by female engineers who shared her drive. It didn’t take her long to immerse herself and apply her curiosity by joining the Design Build Fly Ware Lab team her first year.
More recently, Hardy was accepted a position as a Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) in the unmanned systems lab. Through this initiative, Hardy is providing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan through creating drones that will fly in refugee camps. This project especially excites Hardy, because she believes it is so important to utilize engineering concepts for public good and live out Virginia Tech’s motto, “Ut Prosim.”
“It’s interesting to think about how much technology shapes society. If you design everything with purpose, suddenly engineering is the key to solving any issue and promoting public wellbeing.”
Yet, the impact Hardy has made at Virginia Tech transcends STEM. She is also the Ring Design Chair for the Class of 2023’s Leadership Team, an Apartment Fellow in East Ambler Johnston Hall, and a leader in Chi Alpha.
In the future, Hardy dreams of exploring the intersection of technology and community building exercises, exploring satellites, or maybe even owning her own company or becoming a professor one day.
Another example of an engineering Hokie that has demonstrated remarkable leadership and capabilities is sophomore ISE major and Calhoun Scholar, Ashley Girod.
"I love thinking in systems. I have always been deeply analytical of environments, and learning how to quantify it can help make more accurate decisions. An education in engineering teaches students a framework for problem-solving, which is bounded by perseverance and hard work."
Girod’s decision to come to Virginia Tech began when she was assigned to project teams to derive a solution concept for accessible relief during a natural disaster, which was prompted shortly after the lower Puma volcanic eruption in Hawaii in early May of 2018 for the C-Tech^2 program. Girod experienced firsthand that Virginia Tech supported women in engineering, and wanted them to be at the forefront by designing, inventing, and contributing to contemporary research.
More recently, Girod has been involved in an academic project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Specifically, working for Dr. Alejandro Salado, she created workflows that captured the design phases of components as they were integrated into a satellite subsystem. Girod analyzed engineering data and utilized MATLAB to discover the optimal solution that satisfied both the project budget and system safety requirements.
Furthermore, Girod is a Calhoun Discovery Program Scholar, where she collaborates with students of various majors and backgrounds and leading companies. “I am motivated by completing a difficult project and seeing it through from start to finish, and being able to go on that learning journey with others is very rewarding for me.”
Kimberly Ikediobi is a sophomore from Houston, Texas majoring in chemical engineering, and is another example of a student who has taken all the opportunities provided to them at Virginia Tech to achieve their goals. Ever since Ikediobi was little, she loved making crafts out of cardboard and other materials. She made mailboxes, shoe organizers, and trophies for her dad on Father’s Day.
“I loved watching ‘How It’s Made’ videos. Then towards the end of my junior year, I found my passion for making hair products/cosmetics so chemical engineering fit with that vision.”
With her ambition and drive, it was clear to her Virginia Tech was her place. It didn’t take Ikediobi long to translate her knowledge into real-world applications. As early as her first year, she was able to start her own company called “Natural Kuru.” As someone who personally struggled with haircare, this company was important to her because she wanted to instill confidence through affordable hair products. Using her knowledge of chemicals and science, Ikediobi makes the products using raw organic materials and packages the products herself.
There have been many obstacles thrown her way, yet Ikediobi’s high spirits have pushed her through it. She admits that having a business is not easy when “you’re your only employee.” As she formulates her products, she had to take the time to perfect it to prevent molding. Another hurdle for Ikediobi is struggling to market her products when there are bigger companies that people are more inclined to.
Still, launching a company at such a young age is what Ikediobi enthusiastically declares her proudest moment, as she reached $1000 in sales within just the first four months of her launch. Ikediobi was also featured in a Houston magazine and her YouTube channel, “Natural Kuru” has almost reached 1000 subscribers.
Outside of being the CEO of her own beauty company, Ikediobi is excited to have recently committed to her first chemical engineering summer internship for the Eastman Chemical Company.
“What motivates me is the future. I’m so determined to be successful in the future that I do everything I can now to chase my dreams and ensure that I’ll be comfortable later on.”
While Hardy, Girod, and Ikediobi may have different paths and interests, what they all have in common is their unmatched passion, curiosity, and ability to jump through any hurdle that comes their way. These three women, and the countless other female Hokie engineers, all serve as examples of how important it is to have representation and avenues for women in STEM to thrive at Virginia Tech.