Prior to joining the team, Johnston knew
she liked engineering, but she wasn’t sure
yet if she loved it. The experience helped
her realize that she did. Engineering can be
simple if you’re just designing a part, she
explains, but “it also can be intricate at the
same time, like a puzzle.”
In addition, her participation helped her
realize the true importance of teamwork. It
“can be the thing that slows you down if
it’s not strong,” she notes.
Johnston says that the team has been
a welcoming community, but she originally
brought some insecurity that she didn’t
know as much about cars as her male teammates. However, she realized just having
the passion to learn is enough.
“It’s very important for women to be able
to try new things,” she says. “Go off the
well-beaten path.” Women may feel intimidated in certain areas, she says, but “that
shouldn’t stop your drive to know something.
You’ll end up learning more and [others] will
probably end up feeling intimidated by you.”
Learn more at http://sae.ou.edu.
Female students at the University of
Oklahoma are showing that not only is
the engineering classroom a place for
women, but so are the machine shop and
They are members of the university’s
Sooner Racing Team (Motto:“Crossing
the Finish Line Sooner”), which designs,
manufactures, and races a small Formula-style race car each year for the Formula SAE
competition sponsored by SAE International.
Out of about 40 members of the team,
five are women—including mechanical
engineering students Sarah Ciccaglione
and Katherine Johnston. Ciccaglione is
the cooling system lead and Johnston is
the electronics co-lead. Both women, class
of 2019, are also sponsorship coordinators.
The students are part of a team of engineering students from a wide variety of
disciplines as well as a business student
and a neuroscience doctoral student.
Both women were recruited from an
activity fair. Ciccaglione was drawn to
the team aspect after a back injury ended
her rowing career; she loves working
on a large project with engineers from
every discipline and a variety of classroom
experiences. “It’s impressive to see all 40
members work together so closely and
integrate all our systems in a way that
results in the car not only running but also
winning,” she says.
Ciccaglione explains that the male teammates have been supportive of the women,
although sometimes extra explanation of
the female perspective—or the courage to
address inappropriate joking—is necessary.
She enjoys being a role model to younger
female engineers and has noticed that each
year the numbers of women on both the
OU team and within the overall competition
have increased. “It’s important for women
to see they can do the same things men
can in engineering,” she notes, including
feeling at home in the machine shop.
The hands-on experience earned on the
team and the ability to gain such skills prior
to graduation helped Ciccaglione score a
summer internship at Pratt & Whitney. Now
she’s also considering opportunities in the
automotive sector due to her involvement.
The Right Formula
Female engineering students solve for speed
SARAH CICCAGLIONE (ON LEFT) AND KATHERINE JOHNSTON (ON RIGHT) ARE TWO OF THE FIVE FEMALE MEMBERS OF THE SOONER RACING TEAM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF
OKLAHOMA. THIS 2016 CAR, SOPHIA, PLACED 18TH OUT OF 80 CARS AND 3RD IN FUEL EFFICIENCY.