ECU women finding paths to success

Antonia Dingeman is a senior at ECU. (Photo by Matthew Smith)

Antonia Dingeman always knew what she wanted to do in her life.

“I’ve wanted to be an engineer ever since the second grade,” said Dingman, an East Carolina University senior majoring in engineering. “In elementary school, I had ideas for science fairs where I wanted to see how the shape of an airplane affected how long it flew. I’ve always been interested in how things work, putting things together and taking things apart. A lot of people come into college and don’t know what they want to do, but I’ve always wanted to be in engineering or something in the math and science field. I never saw myself doing anything else.”

Christine Lewis didn’t have that same vision.

Christine Lewis works at Fleet Readiness Center East at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Lewis, a 2014 graduate of ECU, is a mechanical engineer. (Photo by FRC East Public Affairs Office)

“I went into college with an open mind. I didn’t have a real clear plan in the beginning,” said Lewis, a 2014 ECU graduate who works as a mechanical engineer at Fleet Readiness Center East at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. “I took a variety of classes to see what I might be into, and I really enjoyed my first engineering class and ended up pursuing it. I think a lot of people know they want to be engineers, but I started out a little less sure. But after I ended up taking that first class, I found it very interesting and decided it would be a good fit for me.”

Though on different paths, both agree that engineering careers make a lot of sense, especially for women.

“There’s always a need for an engineer. There’s always more to build,” Dingeman said. “I think the problem is that a lot of people are discouraged by it because there are so few women in the field, but that shouldn’t be a factor in determining what you want to do.”

From her perspective, Lewis sees the field growing.

“Personally, I’ve never had any issues being a woman engineer. I’ve found it to be a very open career,” she said. “For me, it was a little intimidating at first. I didn’t grow up in a family that worked on cars, but all the guys in my classes were very familiar with getting their hands dirty a little more than I was. But don’t let that be intimidating. There are always opportunities to learn if it’s something you don’t have that much experience with. It’s a great field to work in. You have pretty limitless opportunities in many locations and places where you can work.”

Lewis has worked at Fleet Readiness Center East since graduating in 2014. (Photo by Fleet Readiness Center East Public Affairs Office)

For Lewis, her opportunities started at ECU.

“My engineering professors helped direct me toward some internships that were really influential,” she said. “… I spent a summer in Germany working with an engineering school there and helping them do some research with some graduate assistants. I also got to do a summer internship with NASA. That was a great experience, and it was also the federal government. My engineering advisors were huge in helping prepare me and getting me some real world experience before I ended up here at FRC East.”

Lewis said FRC East provided her a chance to work in eastern North Carolina close to her family, a family that grew by one in June when she gave birth to a baby boy. The new mother said FRC East has been supportive in giving her options to work from home as needed.

Currently, Lewis works on the flight control systems of the V-22 Osprey, a tiltrotor aircraft that can fly like a plane and land like a helicopter. She’s worked on a variety of aircraft, including the new VH-92 that will serve as the new presidential helicopter beginning as early as next year.

“It’s a pretty large and interesting group we work for. There’s a lot of variety in the work we do,” Lewis said. “I think one of the advantages of working at FRC East is we don’t do a whole lot of design work here. We do a lot of maintenance work. We’re not the ones tasked with designing the aircraft. We’re actually keeping aircraft flying, so we get some pretty high-up calls from the fleet, like ‘hey we’ve got this part and it’s broken, and we need to fly this aircraft, so how do we fix it.’ It’s a different kind of engineering work, but it’s lots of fun for me. It keeps it interesting.”

Dingeman stands with Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, at the Robert and Betty Hill Recognition of Excellence Awards Ceremony. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Dingeman, from Raleigh, said ECU helped give her engineering career a good start with an aerospace internship this past summer.

“It was just an eye-opening experience to say to myself, ‘I actually enjoy this,’” she said. “The cool thing was I used a lot of what I learned in my classes in my internship. I learned a lot of new things, but everything I learned that was new had a little bit of what I’ve learned so far here at ECU.”

Dingeman serves as president of ECU’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She said that not only does the group support female engineering students, it encourages future generations through various outreach efforts. The group works closely with Pitt Pirates Robotics, a group organized to generate interest in science, technology and engineering among youth. Members also volunteer in elementary and middle schools as well as at the Boys and Girls Club to encourage students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

“STEM education is a really important thing to all of us,” Dingeman said, “and we think that it needs to be spread, passed on and encouraged among the younger generation.”

SWE national president Cindy Hoover speaks to members of the ECU chapter during a visit to campus. (Photo by Rhett Butler)

The ECU chapter hosted SWE’s national president recently when Cindy Hoover, vice president and chief engineer for operations at Spirit AeroSystems in Kinston, gave a presentation in the Main Campus Student Center.

The chapter had its first fundraising gala in the spring, with the $3,000 raised going to support STEM efforts and Pitt Pirates Robotics. Following that success, a second gala is being planned for 7 p.m. March 20 at the East Carolina Heart Institute in Greenville.

“I think that our organization, by influencing the younger generation to do it, they can see that we’re becoming engineers, so they know it’s possible,” Dingeman said.

Dingeman said she has received nothing but support from professors, advisors and fellow students at ECU as she pursues her dream of working in the electrical engineering field.

“I think it’s always a new challenge,” Dingeman said. “You always have something new to figure out, something new to solve. Every day is different. For anyone who likes to solve problems and wants something different every day, I feel like this is a very good career to go into. It’s just interesting. You learn so much that you didn’t know before, and you just figure out how the world works.”