Building a Car: It’s Not Just For Boys
BU’s Terrier Motorsports Club proves that building an electric car is not just a job for men.
By: Jennifer Gan
Picture someone welding the chassis of a half-built electric race car. Do you see a male or female engineer performing the work? In a male-dominated field like engineering, it may still be uncommon for some to imagine a woman leading a team of engineers to build a car from scratch.
Isabelle Nguyen (ENG ‘24) is the president of BU’s Terrier Motorsports Club, a premier Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) team tasked with designing and manufacturing an all-electric race car. When Nguyen was the Suspension Chassis Team Lead, she was the only woman in the club who did mechanical work while holding a lead position.
As she reminisces on team photos from that time, she can count the number of women in the club on one hand. Getting to where she is now was not easy, she says, and she has made efforts to reduce the gender gap and encourage women engineers to join the team.
“There is definitely an inherent bias against women in STEM,” she said. “I have encountered a lot of stereotypes, especially in my classes’ team projects. People have told me I cannot do something because I’m a woman or just make fun of me for being the only girl in a class.”
She responds to the stereotyping by refusing to engage and simply proving that she can do what they assume she can’t, like becoming president of BU’s Terrier Motorsports Club. For her, fostering a safe and welcoming workspace was an important factor in the club’s success. She has made sure all members, not just women, are exposed to an accepting work environment.
“From an academic perspective, it’s opened my eyes [working with female engineers,]” said Mike Waetzman (ENG ‘25), Chief Electrical Engineer of the club. “I, like a white guy, wouldn’t be able to consider some issues when it comes to device design,” referencing the unique perspectives women can bring to projects.
“People in this club respect knowledge more than gender,” Nguyen said. “They only see if you are able to succeed with what we…do.”
Successfully building race cars is not Nguyen’s only goal. As president, she wants to turn her team members into real engineers with real skills and give female engineers, who watch the mechanical work from afar, the opportunity to jump in and build.