Student group constructs positivity wall, supports women engineers’ mental health

The Society of Women Engineers set up the positivity wall for Mental Health Awareness Week. Organizers of the event also gave participants information on mental health awareness. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Colorful boards scattered in Bruin Plaza prompted students to answer questions about self-love, such as “What are you grateful for?” or “Flaunt it! What makes you amazing?” on Tuesday.

The positivity wall event was hosted by the Society of Women Engineers for Mental Health Awareness Week. Organizers of the event also gave participants information on mental health awareness. SWE, a not-for-profit educational organization that empowers women to succeed in engineering, is hosting a series of events this week, including an open mic night at Kerckhoff Coffee House on Wednesday, to promote mental health awareness on campus.

Mounika Narayanan, a fourth-year statistics and mathematics of computation student and SWE’s director of the Advocacy Committee, said the purpose of these events is to create a conversation about mental health on campus through self-love and reflection.

“The purpose of the positivity wall is to get people to reflect on their lives and think about what they are grateful for and what makes them happy. A lot of times as students, you are very busy,” Narayanan said. “You don’t get time to sit back and take a breather.”

While the event is open to all students, it aims to support the mental health of female engineering students in particular, said Maddie Taylor, a first-year electrical engineering student and SWE member.

“Female engineers are an underrepresented group in STEM,” Narayanan said. “A lot of the time, there are a lot of mental health issues that come with being a female engineer such as self-doubt and anxiety.”

High competition over grades and internships within the engineering community contributes to unhealthy anxiety levels, Taylor said.

“It’s definitely hard,” Taylor said. “It’s a competitive environment at UCLA in the classes and clubs and the pressure can be really stressful when in such a competitive environment all the time, especially for a female engineer dealing with high expectations.”

Chloe Jiang, an SWE member and Mental Health Awareness Week director, said that one of the biggest mental health issues affecting female engineers is imposter syndrome. Jiang said imposter syndrome is the feeling that one does not deserve or is not good enough to have accomplished certain achievements.

“You don’t feel qualified even though you may be, especially with minorities in engineering,” Jiang said. “Not just women but other ethnicities that are underrepresented in STEM, they don’t feel like they belong.”

Sana Shrikant, a second-year computer science and engineering student, said she has experienced imposter syndrome firsthand.

“I’ve never had a female professor for any of my STEM classes,” Shrikant said. “It’s small things like this that make you feel like you don’t belong.”

SWE aims to break down the mental barriers that keep female engineers from reaching their highest potential, said Manas Kumar, a fourth-year computer science student and former Daily Bruin staffer and treasurer of SWE. Kumar said the main purpose of the club is to provide a safe space for female engineers and combat the lack of female representation in the STEM field.

“There’s a lot of unfair problems female engineers have to go through besides all the normal stresses of being an engineer. This can be a very lonely experience, feeling you just don’t belong in that working environment and there aren’t that many people you can connect to,” Kumar said. “It’s about solving that problem.”

One of the ways SWE is combating that issue is through lobbying, Narayanan said. Representatives from SWE went to Sacramento this past year to lobby for an education bill that would allow industry professionals who don’t have a Ph.D. to receive teacher training and teach at colleges.

“The professors we usually see are old and white. This bill will allow more diverse professors to come on campus and teach so people can see themselves in their professors,” Narayanan said. “If you don’t see role models who look like you, you might feel that it’s not a thing you can go into.”

Ashley Kim, a first-year biology student, said she enjoyed putting her words on the positivity wall and found it relaxing.

“It felt really cool,” Kim said. “It’s nice to put your voice on to something.”

Kumar said that while practicing mental health can be both an emotional and physical struggle, he hopes the positivity board will remind people that they are not alone no matter how lonely they may feel.

“For me, to see a big wall of people, even if they don’t know you, cheering you on and telling you it gets better, it makes you feel less alone,” Kumar said.

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