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An Investigation into How One Engineering School is Approaching Gender Diversity

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Vicki V. May Dartmouth College

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Vicki V. May, Ph.D., P.E. is an Instructional Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on engineering education and K-12 outreach. She teaches courses in solid mechanics, structural analysis, and design at Dartmouth. Prior to relocating to the east coast, Professor May was an Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

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Joseph J. Helble Dartmouth College

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Joseph J. Helble is Professor of Engineering, and Dean of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, a position he has held since 2005. Prior to Dartmouth, Dr. Helble was the AAAS Revelle Fellow, spending a year on staff in the U.S. Senate with a focus on science policy. Previously, he was Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering at the University of Connecticut, and from 1987 to 1995, a researcher at Physical Sciences Inc. Dr. Helble is the author of over 100 publications and 3 U.S. patents, the recipient of several awards for his scholarly work, and a 2014 co-recipient of the National Academy of Engineering Gordon Prize for the development of Dartmouth’s Engineering Entrepreneurship Program. He presently serves as Chair of the ASEE Engineering Deans Public Policy Committee. Dr. Helble holds a B.S from Lehigh University and a Ph.D. from MIT.

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Nationally, the percentage of women earning degrees in engineering remains low despite continued efforts to attract and retain women. In 2016, however, more than 50% of the undergraduate degrees in engineering awarded at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth (Thayer) went to women, and well over 40% of the current engineering students are women, a level more than twice the national average. What is our campus doing differently to successfully attract and retain women in engineering?

Several things set the engineering school at Dartmouth apart from other campuses. Key differences include the fact that the engineering school is part of a liberal arts campus, is fairly small, and has no separate departments within engineering. As with many liberal arts universities, students are admitted to the campus but do not declare a major until they are sophomores, giving them time to explore different courses and departments before declaring a major. Dartmouth is a private institution. Students are admitted to Dartmouth by the Admissions Office; the engineering school does not participate in the admissions process nor do they influence selections.

In order to better understand why our campus has been successful at attracting and retaining women in engineering, we examined our program and enrollment trends, conducted interviews, and surveyed faculty, students and alumni. Based on this data, key aspects of the curriculum that seem to effectively attract and retain women include the flexibility of the curriculum, a focus on design and innovation, a collaborative and friendly atmosphere, the presence of female peer mentors, an emphasis on the liberal arts, and a focus on real-world projects.

Data from surveys, interviews and courses are shared so that faculty and administrators at other campuses may learn about different strategies that could be adapted at their own campuses to increase gender diversity.

May, V. V., & Helble, J. J. (2018, June), An Investigation into How One Engineering School is Approaching Gender Diversity Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29795

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