Thursday, April 25

Female engineer faces challenges eagerly


At first sight, 22 year-old Kimberly Treebs may resemble any
average student at UCLA. But there is nothing average about
her.

Treebs is a fifth-year mechanical engineering student and
co-president of the Society of Women Engineers at UCLA. She has
worked as a computer aided design specialist, founded the UCLA
Running club, and has brought an annual 5k run/walk to UCLA.

Originally, Kim wasn’t even accepted by UCLA. She applied
under the competitive computer science major, but was denied
admission. She almost considered USC, but decided to petition, and
got in on her second try.

As a freshman computer science student, Treebs faced even more
challenges than most other students.

“There weren’t many girls, and I was a bit
discouraged, coming to a new school ““ it’s huge, and
very intimidating,” Treebs said.

Treebs wanted to learn computer graphics, animation, and special
effects, and thought CS was the perfect fit. But CS 33 helped
change her mind about her major.

She pulled all-nighters, asked for help from the many male
classmates, and they were kind to her. But in the end, she realized
she was not happy.

“This sucks, I don’t want to program this,” Treebs
would say to herself.

Academically, her first-year was hard. Treebs rarely asked
questions in class and office hours and was “too
focused” on grades.

As a sophomore, things began to change. Treebs joined the SWE,
and that same year started a new club on campus.

Treebs had run track in high school, and wanted to continue her
running at UCLA. So she decided to start a running club. But there
were doubts.

“I’m only one person, what can I do?” she
asked herself.

Treebs erased those doubts and got a sponsor to start the new
club she is president of, which now has over thirty paying
members.

Academically, Treebs started to have more success in her math
and science classes.

She even met her best friend, Marlena Hu, in a lower division
physics class.

“We struggled through it, definitely,” Treebs said
of herself and Marlena.

“Meeting her early on, to have the trust and reassurance
to be able to confide in each other … getting back a test, crying
about it, knowing its okay that we’re girls and are different
(was important).

“You come out of high school with a 4.5 GPA, and for me, I
focused too much on grades and the importance of it all.”

When it came to doing homework problems and preparing for exams,
“that’s where most of the learning occurs,” she
said.

“A lot of girls deal with self-confidence issues, and are
afraid of looking dumb, thinking guys don’t think they belong …
(But) don’t be afraid to ask questions (in class and in
office hours) … otherwise it’s going to be a hard struggle
““ and engineering is hard enough as it is.”

Treebs put it all together in her third year, focusing on the
importance of learning and understanding the material, not just on
the outcome of the final grade.

She went to office hours, asked questions, and suddenly found
herself understanding the material and how to apply once abstract
equations to practical applications.

Except for thermodynamics.

“I didn’t like that,” she said.

But Treebs refused to give up, no matter how difficult the
course material was, or how tough it could be being in the minority
as a female engineer.

“She wants to graduate from UCLA with a mechanical
engineering degree,” said Stephen Maeder, who graduated from
UCLA last year and is a close friend of Treebs’.

“That’s the thing she holds onto, that’s what
she wants to do for the little girl inside, so she can go out and
do anything in the future, based on the things she gained and
learned in college.”

What Treebs enjoys most about her major is the hands-on aspect
of designing and building objects.

In one class, Treebs worked with a team of fellow students to
design a mechanical ball launcher for dogs.

“So much of school can be theory, but physically building
it … I really enjoyed it,” she said.

When Treebs isn’t studying or in lab, she spends her time
with the SWE and the nearly one hundred members in the group. One
of her main goals as co-president of SWE is to let other female
engineers know “You’re not alone.”

For Treebs, “SWE filled a need I didn’t know was
there … a need of just having a common bond, especially from the
older girls, to hear their stories.”

Treebs’ friends and family describe her as kind and very
passionate about caring for other people.

“When she (works) for SWE, she knows that something she
does might help a girl get a job, to stay in engineering, or even
to make a new friend,” Maeder said.

“Those are the things that motivate her for SWE, caring so
much for others.

“She’s a very passionate person,” said Carolyn
Treebs, Kim’s mother. “People are drawn to her, because
she just loves people and wants to do things for other
people.”

Her passion for caring was what fueled Treebs’ dream of
bringing a 5k run/walk to UCLA to help raise money for children in
hospitals. Throughout her fourth year, she worked tirelessly to
turn her dream into a reality.

As the event coordinator, she led a staff of 30 other students,
including 100 volunteers to put on the event last April which
brought in over one thousand participants.

“It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done,”
Treebs said, who this year is serving as an adviser to the event
coordinator.

After Treebs graduates, she plans to work for a few years before
pursuing an MBA.

She advises younger students to take advantage of their time
now, to do what they are passionate about.

“Your journey (through college) is what you make of
it,” she said.

“We all want respect, and if you think “˜I’m a
girl, and I’m not gonna fit in (with other engineers),’
then you will be miserable,” she said.

“Don’t just not interact. Give back while
you’re still here. You can do a lot.”

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.