Getting the Word Out that Engineering is for Everyone
WSU Society of Women Engineers
Come up with solutions to the most critical and challenging problems of our time in energy, the environment and health. Improve lives. Make money. Best of all, find a job after graduation, even in a difficult economic climate.
But, mention engineering as a field of study, and almost half the population runs the other direction. Engineering remains one of the most segregated fields. WSU, for instance, is in line with national statistics, with approximately 15 percent of certified engineering students who are women.
“We are under utilizing half of the population – at a time when we particularly need engineers to address the critical issues of our time,” says Candis Claiborn, dean of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.
Working to attract and keep students – especially women – in engineering, the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture has started a mentoring program that matches students with women engineers in the field.
The program matches freshmen engineering students with a practicing engineer who is a woman from their hometown. The aim is for the mentor and student to keep in touch throughout the college years. The mentor is meant to provide support and answer questions about the engineering field as well as to help students see how what they’re doing in their classes relates to what they may want to do in their careers. Mostly, the mentor serves as a way for a student to connect with the engineering community.
The mentors and students communicate via email throughout the year. Then, during school breaks, the students and their mentor meet. The student may do a job shadow for a day, tour a facility, or simply meet with her mentor for coffee. Last year, 38 students participated in the program.
The program is supported through a gift from Gary (’68, ME) and Sandy (’69, ME) Fryer. Sandy Fryer has been very active in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture for a number of years, and she currently serves as a member on advisory boards both for the College and for the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. When she was a student attending WSU, Fryer recalls that several mechanical engineering professors served as mentors for her, and she is now participating in the program as a mentor.
The program came about with the unique opportunity presented when Claiborn became dean, one of just a few women deans of engineering colleges in the U.S. While encouragement of students needs to start in middle school and continue through college, starting the mentoring program at WSU was the best way to provide an immediate difference in helping to retain students. The WSU student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) participated in planning the project, and a letter was mailed to engineering alumni asking for volunteer mentors. The response was “tremendous,” says Fryer.
The program is among a number of efforts that the college has undertaken to attract and retain students, especially women. The college, for instance, regularly holds a faculty tea, in which students, particularly female students, were invited to meet with female faculty members in engineering.
Their efforts are starting to pay off. Since 2004, the number of women in the college has increased by 54 percent, and the number of underrepresented minorities has increased by 28 percent.
The program continues to look for mentors and students. More information.