An Integrated Program to Recruit and Retain Women Engineering Students
Lisa M. Abrams, Audeen W. Fentiman
The need for efforts to recruit and retain women in
engineering is well known, and many programs to bring women into the
engineering profession have been proposed and implemented. Unfortunately,
in spite of those efforts, the percentage of women in engineering schools and
among practicing engineers continues to hover around 20% and 10%, respectively.
retain women who have chosen to study engineering. This paper documents the suite of recruitment and retention programs at
Our society is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, and as a result, there is an increasing demand for people with training in technical fields, particularly engineering. Young women form a substantial and largely untapped pool of potential engineers that could help to meet this growing need. In addition, employers are eager to hire women engineers who often provide different perspectives from their male colleagues, helping their companies to develop innovative products and services.
One of the primary goals of the Women in Engineering Program at The Ohio State University is to increase the number of women graduating with degrees in engineering. Meeting that goal requires both recruiting - increasing numbers of women engineering students, and retention - ensuring that those who do enroll complete their degrees.
The Women in Engineering Program has three integrated sets
of programs to recruit and retain women engineering students. The first set of programs focuses on women
attending the 25
Each of these three sets of programs is described in more detail in the remaining sections of this paper.
Recruiting from the Top 25 Ohio Schools
The top 25
Recruiting – Long-Term Programs
Recruiting women engineering students is a daily task within
Weekend for Women: High school junior and senior
women interested in engineering and architecture are invited to OSU for a
weekend in Autumn and Spring to learn more about
Girl Scouts: In July 2001, the Women in Engineering Program hosted 90 local Girl Scouts (7th, 8th, and 9th grade) as part of the nationwide program Girl Scout Wider Opportunity. Students spent the day doing hands on activities. They created their own web page, did chemistry experiments, learned how a toaster works, used Microsoft Encarta® Encyclopedia software, and designed buildings using architecture software. In July 2002, 500 Girl Scouts will be attending similar workshops. Evaluations are given to all participants and students are given an opportunity to provide their mailing address for further information and for tracking purposes. Several universities have similar programs: Pennsylvania State University (http://www.engr.psu.edu/wep/), Lawrence Technical University (http://www.ltu.edu/news/pr_jan18_scouts.html); University of Colorado at Boulder (http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/k12_precollegiate.html); and Miami University (Karen Schmahl; 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceeding).
College Bound Summer Institute: The College Bound Summer Institute is a summer program for all pre-college students, six years and older. University faculty and other educators provide dynamic learning activities offering the students a well-rounded, individualized schedule of academic and recreational activities. The students learn first-hand the importance of a college education and are taken on tours to visit several departments, laboratories, learning/cultural centers, and athletic facilities on the OSU Campus. In August of 2001, the Women in Engineering program hosted a half day workshop for 20 students (10 of them female) where students designed cameras for children and redesigned a paper clip. Evaluations are given to all participants and students are given an opportunity to provide their mailing address for further information and for tracking purposes.
Typically, fewer than half of the
students who enter college with plans to become engineers complete an
engineering degree. The number of young
women choosing engineering as a major is small, and it is important to do all
that is possible to encourage those who are truly interested in engineering to
complete their degrees. Five programs
Women accepted to
Personal Monitoring: The Director of the Women in Engineering Program closely monitors every students’ academic progress and grades. Contact is made with every student during and after each quarter – contact is either in person, over the phone or (most common) e-mail. Some students are congratulated for good grades while others are contacted to encourage a future meeting to discuss poor grades. Every student receives an e-mail on their birthday. The Women in Engineering staff also offers advising to any student on a walk-in basis. A newsletter is published every quarter and a bulletin board and web page (http://wie.eng.ohio-state.edu/) are updated regularly keeping the students up to date on the events going on with the WiE program.
Peer and Alumni Mentoring: The Peer Mentor program pairs a first year female engineering student with a current student. This pairing gives the incoming students the opportunity to ask questions throughout their first year at OSU and to meet other incoming students through the Peer Mentor activities. Each pair is also matched with an alumni mentor. 176 students participated in the 2001-2002 program along with 43 alumni mentors. Quarterly evaluations are given to evaluate the overall program and also the social events. Tracking of students’ GPA’s and enrollment will be done to see the impact of the mentoring program as compared to students that did not participate in the mentoring program. The Women in Engineering program is also a campus participant in the nationwide MentorNet e-mail mentoring program.
Seminar Course: The Women in Engineering Program offers a course, Engineering 195, during Spring quarter on women in engineering. During this course, women engineers come in each week to share their experiences as an engineer. This course gives the students a better understanding of what engineers actually do on the job, the different directions an engineering degree can take them, and good ways to balance a career and family. 40 students participated Spring 2001. Evaluations are given to each student after each speaker in order to receive feedback for future years.
Scholarships and Awards: Outstanding women engineering students are given special recognition at the annual WiE banquet. Cash awards sponsored by industries are given for outstanding academic achievement and leadership. The banquet also gives the women the opportunity to meet industry sponsors who are eager to speak to students about opportunities at their company. Scholarships are also awarded to first year students as a recruitment tool.
The demand for engineers is increasing, and one of the largely untapped talent pools from which future engineers may be drawn are the nation’s young women. Increasing the number of women earning engineering degrees is a complex task. It requires not only recruiting women for our engineering schools but also providing, or helping the women develop, a supportive network that will increase their changes of successfully completing an engineering degree.
Different women respond to
different types of recruiting and retention strategies. It is important for engineering schools to
have a variety of recruitment and retention programs so that each woman can
participate in the one that is most valuable to her. Integrated recruitment and retention programs
in which current engineering students help to mentor younger students and
recruit pre-college women not only provide a service to the younger students
but also help to link the more senior students to the
Some of the activities reported in this paper are related to the Gateway Engineering Education Coalition (NSF Award EEC-9444246), which is supported in part by the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the National Science Foundation.
LISA MARIE ABRAMS, Ph.D., PE, is the Director of the Women in Engineering Program at The Ohio State University. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering. She worked in industry for seven years and served as an academic advisor and an instructor in engineering courses prior to accepting her current position.
FENTIMAN was serving as Associate Dean of Engineering when the work described
in this paper was completed. She holds
BS and MA degrees in mathematics and MS and Ph.D. degrees in