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Increasing Female Engineering Degree Attainment In Electrical And Mechanical Engineering Departments

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.729.1 - 14.729.8



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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth Cady National Academy of Engineering

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Norman Fortenberry National Academy of Engineering

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Catherine Didion National Academy of Engineering

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Karen Peterman Goodman Research Group, Inc.

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

Increasing Female Engineering Degree Attainment in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Departments


The Engineering Equity Extension Service (EEES) project aims to increase the number of women who graduate with baccalaureate degrees in engineering, with a specific focus on the two largest engineering disciplines with the lowest female enrollments, electrical and mechanical. By bringing together expertise in gender studies, the research base on science and engineering education, and project management, EEES seeks to enhance the academic preparation, social interactions, and engineering knowledge and skills attainment of girls and women. In 2008, EEES competitively selected 14 engineering departments (4 Electrical, 10 Mechanical) and provided them access to experts in gender equity research as well as small grants for project development. The departments had proposed specific activities by which to further the goals of EEES. The departmental projects are ongoing and varied. Many chose to focus on reaching out to high school girls to encourage their interest in engineering, while others focused on providing faculty training in gender equitable teaching. Other projects focused on developing curricular or recruiting materials attractive to women and men. This paper will discuss the results and lessons learned in the various programs.


Despite some progress toward equality in engineering, women remain underrepresented [1], especially in mechanical and electrical engineering, which are two of the largest disciplines. One reason for the lack of women in these fields is that more women than men change their major to a non-engineering field after beginning college [1], and many students hold inaccurate views of engineers and engineering [2] that discourage them from entering the field. Female students especially are turned away by images of engineers as males who work alone in a laboratory [3]. Thus, it is important to disseminate accurate pictures of engineering to students of all ages.

Programs designed to expose girls to exciting work in engineering fields have had some success in increasing their awareness and accurate mental images of engineering [4]. Ryerson University saw an increase in female enrollment over the years they offered a summer camp that included active laboratory projects [4]. An extension of that project included short workshops during the school year, and although boys and girls had similar knowledge about engineering prior to the workshop, boys were far more likely than girls to indicate interest in becoming an engineer. After the workshop, both boys and girls had more knowledge of engineering and were more likely to state their interest in entering engineering. Although boys showed a small increase in this interest (46% to 51%), girls increased substantially (16% to 38%). This study suggests that providing accurate information about engineering to high school students could increase the number of engineering undergraduate students overall as well as improving the gender balance in those fields [4].

Improving the perception of engineering alone may not increase the number of women attaining baccalaureate degrees in engineering, as students also need to have confidence in their own skills

Cady, E., & Fortenberry, N., & Didion, C., & Peterman, K. (2009, June), Increasing Female Engineering Degree Attainment In Electrical And Mechanical Engineering Departments Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4646

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