Constructing a Better Future for Women

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Walking into a hospital, social work office, school or any other professional setting, a person can expect to find a decent number of women compared to men, but that is not the case in an engineering office where the ratio is 9 women to 50 men.

The University of Texas’s Cockrell School of Engineering’s Women in Engineering Program leaders hope to combat the lack of women in engineering firms by supporting female engineering majors attending the university and sparking interest into the field for young girls.

Only 13 percent of professional engineers are women, but in social and biological sciences, the percentages are 48 and 58 percent respectively, according to the National Science Board of Science and Engineering Indicators

The Woman in Engineering Program celebrates “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” by encouraging first through eighth grade Texas girls to enter engineering with several interactive activities. The program happens at the end of UT’sNational Engineering Week to help the engineering school reach it’s goal to increase gender diversity.

Program Coordinator Gina Higby said girls who attend the program are more likely to choose engineering as a major and thus the the number of girls in engineering will continue to grow.

“Some of the departments in the Cockrell School are pushing to increase the number of girls they graduate as a main priority and that’s exactly what we want,” Higby said.

Women make up 24 percent of the Cockrell School’s enrolled students. The number has steadily increased since 2009. This year’s number of women admitted into the freshman class is the highest ever at 29 percent, according to university enrollment data.

The overall percentage of female undergraduate students at UT is 53 percent.

Chemical engineering student Heather Bolton said it is rare to see more than two girls in general engineering classes such as physics and calculus. Bolton said the number of girls in specific fields such as chemical engineering is at an all-time high of 30 percent, yet fields like computer and electrical engineering have a significantly smaller percentage of women.

Higby said progress is being made to open doors for women, but gender diversity is still an issue. She said among the program’s goals is to ensure that UT engineering women are ready to succeed as leaders after they graduate.

Civil engineering major Camryn Burkins said she has not been treated differently from her male counterparts and did not realize the low percentage of women in engineering until it was pointed out.

“The same work is expected of me, and I know I can do it. The support the Women in Engineering Program gives me is an extra boost of confidence.”

The program offers events like an Evening with Industry banquet where more than 40 representatives from different companies dine with students. They also have a student support group for second-year female engineering majors called WISE.

With their student support services and outreach events like “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” at UT, Higby said the Women in Engineering Program is hopeful gender diversity in engineering will change for the better.

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