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Deconstructing Engineering Education Programs

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

The Climate for Women In Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.353.1 - 8.353.21



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Paper Authors

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Jeffrey Jarosz

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Ilene Busch-Vishniac

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3592


Ilene Busch-Vishniac, Jeffrey P. Jarosz Johns Hopkins University

The shortage of women in the engineering workforce has been a persistent problem in spite of significant efforts over decades to improve the situation. While the number of women increased as a result of the various focused efforts, the profession is no longer seeing improvements. There is even evidence that the percentage of women in engineering student bodies is backsliding rather than improving. This has led many to question what steps must now be taken to increase the number of women in engineering beyond the current level.

While the answers to the question of how to increase the number of women will undoubtedly be many and varied, reflecting the complexity of the problem, we believe that there is a simple truth that must form the framework for appropriate discussion, namely, that marginal approaches will always produce marginal gains at best. Here we define as marginal approaches which either treat symptoms rather than root causes, or which focus on actions outside of the central core defining a problem. Our analysis of the work to enhance the success of women in engineering finds much of it to be marginal on both accounts. A large fraction of the work focuses on enhancing numbers through symptomatic relief rather than making the profession more attractive. Further, there has been a strong tendency to use minor changes and additions rather than wholesale revamping to increase the participation of women. The result, we believe, is not surprising. Gains are modest at best and cannot be sustained without constant diligence.

Starting with the premise that significant improvements in the number of women in engineering will require new sorts of approaches, we have chosen to focus on the undergraduate student body in engineering schools. We propose a distinctly different approach to the problem of encouraging women – one which focuses on the curriculum. Essentially no attempts have been made to revise the engineering curriculum itself so as to increase the number of women, even though it is clear that the curriculum is central to what defines an engineering education. Instead, most gender initiatives aimed at the undergraduate engineering student population have started with a curriculum which is known to be unattractive to women, and have tried using “add-ons” or minor changes to rectify the situation. We believe that this approach fails because the curriculum is fundamentally flawed and because the rigors of the typical engineering program are not conducive to permitting “add-ons” without increasing the pressure on students.

In our work, supported by the GE Fund, we propose to reconsider the engineering curriculum from the ground up. Our goal is to produce a curriculum which retains the salient technical

“Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright @ 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Jarosz, J., & Busch-Vishniac, I. (2003, June), Deconstructing Engineering Education Programs Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12298

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