While most little girls were playing with dolls and baking cakes in their Betty Crocker easy-bake ovens, Brie Leingang was building Lego villages and drawing pictures of airplanes. As a kid growing up on military bases, her U.S. Marine father’s love of mechanics definitely rubbed off on her, as did a passion for understanding the mechanical underpinnings of what makes things tick.

Perhaps not surprisingly, today at age 20, Brie is finishing up her associate’s degree in general science and health sciences as she prepares to transfer to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to begin an engineering program.

She started school with the idea of following her older sister into the medical profession, but her interests began to change in the wake of Gillette College’s inclusion of engineering program opportunities. Since, she’s been taking general engineering courses trying to figure out which area appeals most. She jokes she might be one of only a few students on earth talking excitedly about calculus III and chemistry homework.

Statistically speaking, Brie is bucking the gender trend when it comes to females entering the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. Recent studies by the National Science Foundation found that while women receive bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering at nearly an equal rate as men, when it comes to certain areas like computer sciences, engineering, and mathematics, woman are receiving far fewer degrees at a rate of 18 percent, 19 percent, and 43 percent, respectively.

At age 20, Brie is finishing up her associate’s degree in general science and health sciences.

When it comes to the field of information technology, those stats are equally disproportionate. According to Computing Technology Industry Association research, 69 percent of women did not pursue careers in information technology because they weren’t aware of the choices and opportunities available to them.

For Brie, math and science classes never felt gender specific. Going to high school in Gillette, her STEM classes were pretty much half and half, and it never struck her as odd that she was drawn to the sciences.

“I like things that make sense,” she said. “In math, you don’t have all those choices and there’s only one correct answer and a limited number of ways to get there.”

That structure and the logical ordering of events feels natural to her, and she doesn’t consider herself to be pioneering in any way. She’s just following her interests and taking courses she likes.

Although she feels she hasn’t completed enough courses yet to determine what branch of engineering – civil, mechanical, or structural – she plans to pursue long-term, she’s enjoying the process of learning and parsing through all those complicated problems, her future among them.

By: Jen C. Kocher

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