The daughter of two engineers, Sharmaine Arabelle Marcos has been on the path to become an engineer herself ever since elementary school. Now a fifth-year power electronics engineering major at University of the Philippines Diliman in her hometown Quezon City, Marcos is finding her footing in the male-dominated field. In addition to excelling academically, she was a standout intern with Power Integrations last summer.
From April 29 to May 2, Marcos will compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon Asia 2019 as a two-time member of Team UP Dagisik. Though building a car from scratch and participating in one of the largest energy-efficiency competition in the world may seem to be more of a boys’ game, the squad from UP’s Electrical & Electronics Engineering Institute has a team-record seven female students on its 18-person roster, including three of nine pit crew members who will be in the garage making in-race adjustments to the PI sponsored electric concept vehicle.
“My first task for the team this year was to help preparing the sponsorship proposal to PI,” Marcos said. “I am able to work on a lot of things that are not in my comfort zone, like Photoshop, talking to people and using power tools. It’s a big improvement for me as a person. I was not allowed to touch power tools when I was at home, but since I joined the team, my dad started to trust me more with those things.”
According to a 2017 UNESCO study, women make up 29.5% of all college graduates in engineering in the Philippines. Faculty Advisor Chekov Castillo has actively recruited female students in the EEE Institute’s Power Electronics Laboratory to join Team UP Dagisik in order to showcase their talent and boost their confidence in their own engineering skills. “We are proud to have a record number of female students on this team,” Castillo said. “Each of these young women earned her spot here. They are just as capable and passionate as the boys.”
For the last six months, the team has essentially lived in the lab together, working on the car after class and deep into the night, sleeping on the couch or floor, and going straight back to class the next morning. “One of the biggest challenges for us girls is that sometimes we have to go to class without showering,” said support team member Ada Gascon, “because the shower upstairs is very cold.”
Most female members on this year’s team are assigned to the mechanical staff, learning new skills like cutting, welding and sanding. Marcos said, “Sometimes it seems like the guys think we are more delicate, but these girls all like to learn and build things. Plus, the girls can work better inside the car because we are smaller.”
Sixth-year student Herschel Faye Fabregas spent her Chinese New Year holidays in the lab and sanded the entire car. “When my teammates came back from the holidays, everybody was telling me how smooth and nice the car looked,” Fabregas said, “and that made me feel really good.”
Fabregas is one of only two pit crew members without prior experience in Shell Eco-marathon. The other is Gil Ariane from the Digital Signal Processing Laboratory. “I love to learn things,” she said. “Since I am the only person not from the [power electronics] lab, there are a lot of things for me to learn. I’m not a very social person, but this team is so easy to get along with. Learning how to do the mechanical work and handle different materials has been really fun for me.”
Most young women on the team said the experience has improved their social skills in addition to providing practical skills they can’t learn in the classroom. Marcos and Ariane both plan to work as engineers before pursuing master’s degrees. Fabregas once considered leaving the lab and switching her major to business administration. “I didn’t want to leave the program just for the sake of leaving,” she said. “I pushed through with the support of my peers and professors.”
As the official sponsor of Team UP Dagisik, Power Integrations will be on-site at the Sepang International Circuit to cheer the students on. Follow the race on Twitter starting April 29 @PwrInt.