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Attracting Women into Engineering - a Case Study

Malgorzata S. Zywno, Member, IEEE, Kimberley A. Gilbride,  Peter D. Hiscocks,  Judith K. Waalen,  and Diane C. Kennedy, Member, IEEE 

Abstract - Women make up 52% of the population and 55% (1996)of all undergraduate students in Canadian Universities, yet only 21% of students enrolled in applied science and engineering programs are women. In 1991, Ryerson Polytechnic University initiated the "Discover Engineering" Summer Camp for high school girls. The objectives of the project are to educate young women about the challenges and rewards of engineering, and to motivate them to choose engineering as a career option. This paper presents an overview of the "Discover Engineering" project as an example of a successful recruitment strategy to attract more women into engineering. Follow-up surveys indicate that of the 760 students who have attended the camp, approximately 400 women are now studying engineering. Survey results and factors that contributed to the camp success are discussed. Camp attendance patterns and high school programs suggest that social class and cultural perceptions may still constitute barriers to women's entry into the engineering profession.


I. Introduction

The economic well-being of Canada and the development of its technological base depends to a great extent on the effective employment of engineers. With the predicted shortage of engineers by the year 2000, employers cannot be satisfied with anything less than the very best engineers available, regardless of their gender [1], [2]. Statistics Canada figures released in April 1998 show that women make up only 12 % of 407,130 university grads in the science and technology fields, and only seven per cent of the 588,400 community college grads. Although women represent 55% of all undergraduate students in Canadian Universities, only 21% are enrolled in engineering programs. Furthermore, the percentage of women among practicing engineers in Canada is still very low, less than 5% [2]. For example, in 1998 only 3030 out of 61,340 (i.e. 4.9%) Professional Engineers registered in the Province of Ontario were women. Under-representation of women persists despite the fact that there are no differences in academic ability between men and women and that men and women initially pursue engineering for similar reasons [3].

A. Enrollments in Engineering in Ontario

Over the past decade the number of women in engineering undergraduate programs in the province of Ontario has been steadily increasing, but women are still significantly under represented in the applied science and engineering programs. While the climate for women in engineering has improved in recent years, misconceptions about engineering, lack of encouragement, peer pressure and other factors still act as barriers preventing more women to pursue a career in this non-traditional field. Trends in enrollment in engineering schools are shown in Figures 1,2 and 3 [4].


Fig. 1. Number of Men Studying Engineering at Ontario Universities.

As shown in Figure 1, the number of male students in engineering has been declining since 1992. This is reflected in all the engineering disciplines.


Fig. 2. Number of Women Studying Engineering at Ontario Universities.

In contrast, the number of women students in engineering has been increasing, although their actual number remains much smaller than that of their male counterparts, as shown in Figure 2. The female enrollment in engineering programs in Ontario over a five year period has increased from 13% in 1992-93 to 18.5% in 1996-97 school year.


Fig. 3. Percentage of Women Studying Engineering at Ontario Universities by Discipline.

Figure 3 presents the percentage of women students in engineering by discipline. This graph shows a steady decrease in Aeronautical and Industrial Engineering enrollment since 1993. It has been suggested that women are moving from Industrial to Systems engineering, but the reason for the decrease in Aeronautical engineering is not known. It is interesting to observe that the total percentage of women students in engineering continues to increase, although the total number of women students has recently shown the same down turn as men.

It has been suggested that initiatives to encourage women to study engineering will soon become unnecessary because the numbers are increasing so rapidly. This would be welcome news if it were true, but in fact the gains of women in the profession are not large and are not well established yet. Although the participation of women in engineering has increased every year since 1974 (when the first statistics were recorded), when only 2.9% of full time engineering students were women, the engineering profession has not been successful in attracting women in large numbers [5]. At about 18%, the percentage of women undergraduate students in engineering in Ontario is still well below the participation rates of women studying for other professions such as law, medicine, pharmacology or veterinary science. Women practicing engineers account for only about 5% of the profession. While women have made progress in the profession, they still encounter unacceptable attitudes and behaviours, as well as the "glass ceiling" [2].

B. Why More Women Don't Become Engineers

There are a number of factors that tend to divert women away from engineering as a career:

Streaming, or the "Leaky Pipe Syndrome": Women are diverted from math and science courses early in their high school careers. It has been argued [6] that this is associated with issues of competition, isolation, lack of female role models and not of lack of academic ability. Systemic obstacles [1] include: cultural influences and gender stereotyping at home and in school, peer pressure and images in the media.

Perception of Difficulty: Engineering is thought to be extremely difficult. Combined with the prevailing myth that women are poor at mathematics, women tend to choose something perceived as more achievable.

Exposure: Women do not have as many engineer role models as for other careers such as business, medicine or law. There are few women science high school teachers, women in science textbooks and among university engineering faculty in 1995, only 5.5% were women [7].

Lack of Knowledge About Engineering: Engineering is perceived as a technical, often solitary pursuit, in which one works with machines rather than people. Career options in engineering are not well known by most adults, let alone teenagers, and are not well represented in high school curricula or through career guidance counseling. This affects girls disproportionately, as they typically have less access to information about engineering outside the school environment.

Hobbies: Encouraged by parents and peers, boys engage in mechanically oriented hobbies, which prepare them better for the practical aspects of engineering.

Social Status of the Profession: In North America, the profession of engineering derives from the skilled trades of Britain, and therefore may be associated with the working class. This is in contrast to the European tradition of engineering, where it has always been regarded as a profession allied to the sciences. Notice the difference between the derivation of the English word engineer (associated with engines) and the French word ingenieur(associated with ingenuity or invention). Thus engineering has a tradition of higher social status in the New World countries such as Venezuela, deriving their traditions from continental Europe, as opposed to British-influenced Canada. This is implicitly understood by parents who are considering professional careers for their daughters.


II. What Can Be Done ?


III. Discover Engineering Summer Camp Initiative at Ryerson


IV. Discover Engineering Curriculum


V. Patterns of Camp Attendance


VI. Camp Survey Results


VII. Other Outcomes


VIII. Conclusion


Acknowledgments

The Discover Engineering Project was accomplished with much help from the community of Ryerson Polytechnic University, our engineering industry partners, the federal and provincial governments and Professional Engineers Ontario. We would like to thank all the sponsors (they have been numerous) over the last seven years that have made this project possible.We would also like to thank Leisl Dukhedin-Lalla and Laurel Williams, graduate engineering students, and Women In Engineering Projects Co-Ordinators at the time, for conducting the 1991 and 1993 post camp surveys, respectively.

References

[1] M. Frize, 1992, "More Than Just Numbers", Report of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering.

[2] C. Lang, "The Evolution of Women in Engineering: Participation and Acceptance", PEO's Engineering Dimensions, September/October 1997, pp. 30-36.

[3] C.M. Kent and A.P. Stublen, "Women in Engineering: Challenges and Opportunities", IEEE Industry Applications Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3, May/June 1995, pp. 7 - 15.

[4] Engineering University Enrollment Statistics, Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, November 27, 1997.

[5] Women in Science and Engineering, Volume 1: Universities,Industry, Science and Technology Canada, 1991.

[6] S. Tobias, "Women in Science - Women and Science", JCST, March 1992, pp. 276-278.

[7] NSERC/Nortel Joint Chair for Women in Science and Engineering in Ontario Web Site: http://www.carleton.ca/wise/natstats.htm

[8] M.H. Vickers, H.L. Ching and C.B. Dean, "Do Science Programs Make a Difference?", More Than Just Numbers Conference, New Brunswick, May 1995.

[9] R.S. Heller, C.D. Martin, and T. Thomas, "Did It Work? An Interactive Report on the Follow-up Evaluation of an Intervention Program for Minority High School Girls", IEEE Transactions on Education, CD-ROM Supplement, Vol. 40, No. 4, November 1997.

[10] R.S. Heller, C. D. Martin, 1995, "Model Programs to Attract Young Minority Women to Engineering and Science'', Report of a Working Conference, George Washington University.

[11] K.A. Gilbride, D.C. Kennedy, J.K. Waalen and M.S. Zywno, "Discover Engineering - a Strategy for Attracting Women into Engineering", Proceedings of Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering (CSME) Forum, Toronto, pp. 112-118, 1998.

[12] P. Hiscocks, "Implementing an Engineering Summer Camp", Proceedings of the Seventh International Gender and Science and Technology Conference, August 1993.

[13] C.S. Davis, A.B. Ginorio, C.S. Hollenshead, B.B. Lararus, P.M. Rayman and Associates, 1996, "The Equity Equation", Jossey-Bass Inc., California.

[14] M.S. Zywno and P.D. Hiscocks, "Discover Engineering Summer Camp for High School Girls at Ryerson Polytechnic University - a Recruitment Strategy that Works", Proceedings of the 8th Annual CCWEST Conference, Vancouver, May 19-21, 1998.

[15] Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, December 1997.


Author Contact Information

Malgorzata S. Zywno
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Ryerson Polytechnic University
350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2K3
Canada
Phone: (416)-979-5000 ext 6105
Fax: (416)-979-5280
E-mail: gosha@ee.ryerson.ca

Kimberley A. Gilbride
School of Chemical Engineering
Applied Chemistry and Biology Program
Ryerson Polytechnic University
350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2K3
Canada
Phone: (416)-979-5000 ext 6354
Fax: (416)-979-5044
E-mail: gilbride@acs.ryerson.ca

Peter D. Hiscocks
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Ryerson Polytechnic University
350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2K3
Canada
Phone: (416)-979-5000 ext 6109
Fax: (416)-979-5280
E-mail: phiscock@ee.ryerson.ca

Judith K. Waalen
Department of Psychology
Ryerson Polytechnic University
350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2K3
Canada
Phone: (416)-979-5000 ext 6570
Fax: (416)-979-5294
E-mail: jwaalen@acs.ryerson.ca

Diane C. Kennedy
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Ryerson Polytechnic University
350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 2K3
Canada
Phone: (416)-979-5000 ext 6096
Fax: (416)-979-5280
E-mail: dkennedy@ee.ryerson.ca


Author Biographies

Malgorzata Zywno received the Magister degree from Technical University of Lodz (Poland) in 1977 and the M.Eng. degree from the University of Toronto in 1990. She is a Professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her research interests are in control and multimedia in engineering education. She is a Professional Engineer, with industrial experience including power system stabilizers design, and an IEEE member. She has been involved with WIE Committee projects since 1992 and is also its webmaster.

Kimberley Gilbride received the B.Sc. degree from Concordia Universityin 1980, the M.Sc. degree from University of Guelph in 1982, and the Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from the University of Toronto in 1989. She is a Professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in the Department of Applied Chemistry and Biological Sciences. Her research interests include microbial genetics, DNA hybridization, genetic fingerprinting. She currently holds an NSERC grant to study microbial populations of wastewater effluents. She has been involved with WIE Committee projects since the its inception in 1989.

Peter Hiscocks received the B.A.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto. He is a professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a Professional Engineer. His teaching and research interests are in electronics and mechatronics. In 1989 he co-founded the Women in Engineering Committee at Ryerson and has been a major driving force behind the "Discover Engineering" Summer Camp project. His daughter, Jessica, attended the camp in 1996 and is considering a career in Mechanical Engineering.

Judith Waalen received the B.A. degree in Biology and Psychology from Assumption University in 1962, the M.A.degree in Psychology from University of Windsor in 1964 and the Ph.D. degree in Sociology from Wayne State University in 1982. She is a Professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in the Department of Psychology and the Director of the Ryerson Quality/Service Research Group in Faculty of Business. Her reseach interests include surrounding quality service, statistics, validation of measurement instruments. She has been involved with WIE Committee projects since 1996.

Diane Kennedy received her B.A.Sc. in Systems Engineering in 1985 and the Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering in 1995 from the University of Waterloo. She is an Assistant Professor at Ryerson Polytechnic University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her research interests include non-linear geometric control, power systems and multimedia in engineering education. She currently holds an NSERC grant to study the nonlinear geometric control of synchronous generators. She is a Professional Engineer and an IEEE member. She has been involved with WIE Committee projects since 1996.

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