Across the nation, female engineering students face the daunting issue of being in the minority. However, at BYU, mechanical engineering student Amanda Lytle Bartschi produces inspiring results for other women in engineering as she defeats the odds and wins awards for her work.
Each year, the Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY) winner receives funding for their innovation, not to mention immense recognition and validation as an engineer. However, since the competition's inception in 2010, women have taken the top spot only twice. The most recent of those two wins happened this past year, with the award going to LaparoVision, a project submitted by Amanda Lytle Bartschi and Jacob Sheffield.
Bartschi always had a knack for engineering subjects. From lego projects to disassembling hair blow dryers, she enjoyed anything that allowed her to work with her hands. So, in high school Bartschi attended the Las Vegas Northwest Career and Technical Academy, a STEM school that presented her with the opportunity to specialize in engineering.
Knowing how and why things work gave Bartschi incentive to continue on the engineering pathway. In Fall 2015, she continued her education at the BYU Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering. After one year, Bartschi took a hiatus to serve in the Guatemala City East mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since her return to BYU in Fall 2018, Bartschi has accomplished much in mechanical engineering, including LaparoVision.
LaparoVision is a cleaning device innovated to improve the efficiency and safety of laparoscopic surgery. Much like how a windshield wiper functions, it attaches to the laparoscope lens and clears away tissue, blood, or other visual interferences.
The idea for this device first started when former graduate student Lance Hyatt and Sheffield shadowed a few surgeons who complained of the frequency they needed to interrupt a surgery and clean the laparoscope lens. The two decided to solve their problem and gathered other students, including Bartschi, to assist them with a new project. Later, when he moved away, Bartschi and Sheffield focused their efforts on continuing his project, which is now known as LaparoVision.
Aside from Bartschi’s team win, only one other woman, Cindy Barrowes, placed first at the SIOY finals. Barrowes' 3D dental printer secured her the win in 2015. While Bartschi is glad to act as an exemplar for women engineers at BYU, the lack of past representation in the competition awards disappoints her. “It’s not a super new feeling because it is common in many of my classes,” which Bartschi said makes the win "both happy and sad” as she wished she could celebrate it with more of her peers.
In the United States, engineering is a pathway predominantly chosen by males. BYU has attempted to combat this near uniformity of gender with diverse, organized groups such as the BYU Engineering Together (BE Together) program and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) club, finding some success with a 55 percent increase in female freshman enrollment from 2000 to 2019. However, despite the growth, less than a quarter of students pursuing engineering degrees are female.
Bartschi decided early on in her studies to stay involved with available resources for females, surrounding herself with other women in similar situations, to avoid the chance of discouragement leading her to leave the college.
“It’s hard to stay in the major when you don’t have a whole lot of support,” Bartschi commented. “I’ve been really lucky to find some really good female friends in the major and go to the SWE events … and those sort of things to help keep me motivated and on track."
One significant source of support came from Bartschi’s time spent working at the Compliance Mechanism Research (CMR) lab. Bartschi began working at the CMR lab her freshman year and discovered it offered more than manufacturing opportunities. In this student inclusive workplace, she found female student mentors, became a mentor herself, and had professors encouraging her progress through hands-on learning experiences. The adjunct professor and current CMR lab manager, Terri Bateman, confirmed that the lab strives to hire diverse, qualified students. As a result, Bateman said an estimated third of the students employed are female.
“I think the women in our lab appreciate that. They recognize that it’s rare that there are very many women in one place in engineering, and enjoy that,” Bateman said. “The creativity that [Bartschi] is allowed to use in that lab–she really enjoys that side of engineering … She’s great in a team. She keeps things moving forward and she’s calm.”
With graduation approaching in April 2022, Bartschi has decided to focus on other endeavors in her research, while Sheffield continues to work with LaparoVision. During this time, Bartschi’s husband, Benjamin Bartschi, has taken a year off from his studies at MIT to support her academic goals. Benjamin admires Bartschi’s passion not only for engineering, but for advocating for women in engineering. “To feel like an outsider and to not have certain social connections that other people have can be pretty tough,” Benjamin said, “and so she’s really passionate about sticking it out and trying to help with that. I find it really inspiring.”
Throughout the rest of her schooling and after graduation, Bartschi will continue to inspire others with her creative innovations and her support for fostering female success in engineering.
¹“Digest of Education Statistics, 2019.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of
the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/2019menu_tables.asp.
²ASEE 2019 Edition: Engineering & Engineering Technology by the Numbers. ASEE American Society for Engineering Education, ira.asee.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Engineering-by-the-Numbers-FINAL-2021.pdf.