Advancing Opportunities for Women in Engineering

Lori Peppe Trezza meets with UAlbany students Shaima Hussaini, Seoyeon Choi and Amanda Berryman.
From left, Lori Trezza meets with CEAS students Shaima Hussaini, Seoyeon Choi and Amanda Berryman (seated).

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 18, 2023) — When Seoyeon Choi first began exploring colleges, she knew that she wanted to study computer science. Born and raised in Korea, Choi attended high school in Riverside, California, and Toronto, Canada. Her initial thoughts were to attend San Francisco State University.

"But I changed my mind to go to the University at Albany, because I heard that UAlbany supports computer science majors and provides many unique learning opportunities for students," said Choi, who is majoring in computer science and is on track to earn her undergraduate degree in May of 2024.

Choi might stay a bit longer, however, to pursue one such opportunity that UAlbany’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) provides: earning a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree at the same time. This would push Choi’s graduation 2025, but also provide her with another year to conduct research with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Chinwe Ekenna, who specializes in intelligent motion planning as it applies to robotics and proteins.

In addition to applied learning experiences, Choi was one of 12 CEAS students who were invited to take part in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Conference in Hartford, Conn., held in March of 2023. The students were able to attend the conference thanks to the support of the the Lori Peppe Trezza ’83 Women in Technology and Engineering Fund.

Established by Trezza, a UAlbany alum, the fund provides support to students in technology and engineering to establish a Society of Women Engineers chapter at UAlbany, as well as assist with travel or registration expenses to attend conferences/lectures, speaker expenses/fees, events, academic initiatives or research projects.

In establishing the fund, Trezza said her main goal was to help increase the number of women in technology and engineering and assist them in exploring those areas of interest while at UAlbany. In 2022, Trezza decided to endow the fund to provide support for these efforts in perpetuity.

"Role models are such a critical component of retaining women in technology.  SWE provides this as well as wonderful educational opportunities for the students," said Trezza. "I was so impressed with the students when we met to discuss the impact the conference had and look forward to working with chapter as it continues to evolve."

"The pipeline of women in STEM fields is already narrow, which makes recruitment efforts important, but retention is even more important to keep the pipeline alive," said SWE UAlbany faculty advisor and Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Dola Saha. "The conference is the platform for young engineers to get inspired, feel empowered, learn about different Engineering fields, find lifetime mentors and build a professional network, which all eventually help in retention of next generation women Engineers."

Through her attendance at the conference, Choi became one of the first UAlbany students to benefit from Trezza’s gift.

"I chose to major in engineering because I like to solve problems when problems arise, and I like to learn and develop something steadily rather than follow other people's opinions," said Choi. "Seeing female engineers from different states and schools gave me a sense of identity and gave me a lot of courage and encouragement."

Choi and her fellow students also attended a job fair held in conjunction with the conference, where they were able to ask questions and get answers from recruiters from various companies. In May, Choi, Amanda Berryman and Shaima Hussaini met with Trezza in person to discuss the conference as well as their future careers.

"It was an honor to meet Lori Trezza,"said Choi. "When we asked about our potential paths following graduation, she gave advice and encouraged students based on her own experience. I felt like I wanted to work hard in her engineering field just like her, so I could help the next generation students and become someone who could give advice and support as Ms. Trezza did."

Berryman is working along a similar pathway as Choi. The Long Island native transferred from SUNY New Paltz into the 4+1 Electrical and Computer Engineering BS/MS program at UAlbany.

"I was fortunate enough to get a part-time job at IBM Research as a reliability laboratory technician in the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering complex," said Berryman, who was thrilled that UAlbany’s 4+1 program would allow her to earn two degrees in the same amount of time that she would have previously only earned her bachelor’s degree.

Berryman’s parents, who didn’t attend college, remained fully supportive as she changed schools and pursued her degree across the street from her job. She also found a much larger support structure through her attendance at the SWE conference.

A girl holds her finger out in front of a robot dog inside on a purple carpet.
Senior Amanda Berryman, a member of the UAlbany IEEE chapter, demonstrates with a robotic dog in the Campus Center (Photo by Patrick Dodson).

"It’s very empowering knowing there’s this massive community of women in STEM who are there to support you and are able to come together to learn and grow together," said Berryman of her attendance, as well as to the feedback Trezza provided when she met with students.

Berryman is eager to attend additional conferences in the coming academic year. She also serves on the board of the UAlbany student chapter of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). This spring, Berryman and her fellow students conducted a demonstration with a robotic dog in the campus center, highlighting a knack for programming and engineering as the animatronic pup was paraded around the Campus Center.

The Society of Women Engineers, founded in 1950, is a not-for-profit educational and service organization that empowers women to succeed and advance in engineering and be recognized for their life-changing contributions as engineers and leaders. SWE is the driving force that establishes engineering as a highly desirable career for women through an exciting array of training and development programs, networking opportunities, scholarships alongside outreach and advocacy activities.