“I was really drawn to get involved with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in undergrad when I heard the 2016 statistic that only 9% of engineers are women.1 That sounds like a statistic from the ’70s or something.”
Emma Godwin entered college at The University of Alabama at Birmingham knowing she’d pursue engineering, but the Society of Women Engineers became an integral part of her story. “I served as treasurer one year, and then I was president for two years before I graduated. Now I’m a graduate member of SWE at UA,” she said, referring to her current enrollment in an online master’s in Mechanical Engineering program through the UA campus in Tuscaloosa.
In 2017, she was selected as the Undergraduate Engineering Student of the Year at UAB, and she credits her involvement with SWE as setting her apart for that award.
While earning her bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering, Emma became interested in physics through a bioimaging class. “We learned how we can exploit certain principles of the universe to get an image from inside your body. And it brushed the surface of a lot of nuclear physics concepts.” It piqued her interest enough that she took a physics class. And then another. And another until eventually she decided to earn a second bachelor’s in Physics. Her last year of school, she was also working as a systems engineer at the Engineering and Innovation Technology Department at UAB almost 40 hours a week, just shy of the full-time employee definition so that she could continue as a full-time student.
After graduating in 2019, Emma was hired at Southern Research in Birmingham, where she currently works as a mechanical engineer and is the only woman engineer in her department of about 30. Her current project is designing and building a gimbal system for use on Navy ships and aircraft. It keeps her busy, but she has still found time to pursue a master’s.
“Southern Research will pay up to a certain amount for tuition, and with the downtime 2020 gave me in my personal life, it seemed like a good time to earn my master’s.” Born and raised an Auburn fan, Emma wasn’t immediately drawn to The University of Alabama, but she couldn’t pass over its online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. “Alabama was the best value for the money. I got heat from my family about going to UA, but my husband’s family are Alabama fans, so they’ve cheered me on,” she said.
The opportunity to earn a PhD from UA online one day also caught Emma’s eye. “You can’t earn a PhD online at many schools, but Alabama has figured out a way to do that without sacrificing quality. You may not get it done in a year, but you can balance the work alongside your career and earn the degree without having to take so much time off from work.”
She has found UA’s online coursework to be a perfect complement to her demanding career. “Even if I had gone with UAB, which is just 15 minutes away from me, there’s no way I would have time to get my master’s if it were in person or even hybrid.” She looks forward to potential management roles in the future. “I see opportunities for leadership where I could add value,” she said.
In the fall, Emma was the guest speaker at a UAB section meeting of SWE. “It was a weird transition because I used to be the one to schedule and introduce those, and now they asked me to be the speaker,” she said. She enjoyed the opportunity to return to a group that has meant so much for her career and to encourage future women engineers.
1 Updated statistics from 2018 indicate that the percentage of women in engineering has increased to 13%.
About the Author
Amy Nichols is the content coordinator for Bama By Distance at The University of Alabama, which offers more than 70 UA undergraduate and graduate degrees through online learning, including BS and MS degrees in Mechanical Engineering and both an MS and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics.
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