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Turning Limited Resources into Increased Recruitment & Retention of Female Students in Technology Programs

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Recruitment & Retention of Women II

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1555.1 - 22.1555.11



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Paper Authors


Donna Milgram National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Sciences (IWITTS)

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Donna Milgram, the Executive Director of the National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS), has dedicated her career to helping women succeed in fields that have been traditionally dominated by men -- from engineering and auto technology to law enforcement and computer networking.

Initially, Ms. Milgram's work focused on helping women "survive" the workplace, but she quickly saw that institutional change was critical. She shifted to helping employers and the education and job training systems develop more female-friendly recruitment and retention practices. In 1994, Ms. Milgram founded IWITTS, the only national organization whose sole mission is to provide educators and employers with the tools they need to encourage women to enter and succeed in careers where they are under-represented. IWITTS’ solutions include trainings, publications, products and technical assistance.

Since then, Ms. Milgram’s work has taken her to 43 of the 50 states. She has consulted and conducted hundreds of trainings on recruiting and retaining women in technology education and related occupations for national, state, regional and local educational institutions, organizations and employers.

Ms. Milgram has served as Principal Investigator (PI) for several National Science Foundation (NSF) projects and a National Institute of Justice grant. She is currently PI of the CalWomenTech Project, a $2 million NSF grant awarded in April 2006. Through this five-year grant, eight California community colleges have received training and technical assistance to help recruit and retain women into technology programs where they are under-represented. The Project was highlighted by NSF in 2009 for demonstrating significant achievement and program effectiveness.

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Turning Limited Resources into Increased Recruitment & Retention of Female Students in Technology ProgramsThis NSF-highlighted Project has assisted eight California technology programs in recruiting andretaining more women during an economic recession and state budget crisis that has forcedCalifornia two-year colleges to cut $520 million in the 2009/2010 academic year alone. The startto the 2010/2011 has already seen the state of California miss payments to the colleges in thehundreds of millions and forced colleges to borrow money. Even in this tough economicenvironment, the Project strategies and Project model have resulted in increases of femalestudents in technology programs where they are underrepresented. After two and a half years ofparticipation for the first cohort of colleges and one and a half to two years for the second cohort,six of the eight colleges have had increases in female enrollment. For example, one college’sComputer Networking and Information Technology (CNIT) program went from a baseline of18.8% female enrollment to 35% at its highest point to date (an increase of 16.2%). This collegehas also faced cutting 800 courses and started looking for sponsors to help cover costs.The retention strategies implemented by the colleges in the Project have also led to a significantnet increase in the completion rates of not only females, but also males, in several of thecolleges. For example, one college has seen their retention rate for female students increase by28.5% from baseline in two years. Male completion rates in the program have increased by23.4% from baseline in the same time period showing that the Project strategies that had apositive impact on female retention can also impact male completion rates. Many students attwo-year colleges suffer from the same deficit of time and funding as the colleges, and retentionstrategies that meet the needs of these students without straining the resources of the program arekey. For example, one of this college’s successful strategies has been inviting female role modelsto speak to both female and male students during normal class time, so that women students whowork full time do not have to attend a special meeting outside of class and instructors do notneed to spend time organizing additional events.The Project has worked with the colleges to distribute two surveys to their female technologystudents that ask the women what retention strategies they have experienced, which ones theyfind helpful, and which strategies they would like to experience more (2009 survey n=60, 2010survey n=43). The results from these surveys have allowed the colleges to see what strategiestake the least resources and yield the highest return for their students. Many of the strategiesfemale students favor are classroom and curriculum strategies that can be implemented rightaway with little to no funding.

Milgram, D. (2011, June), Turning Limited Resources into Increased Recruitment & Retention of Female Students in Technology Programs Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18953

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