School of Engineering enrollment increases, but number of women remains stagnant
- Oct. 9, 2012
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The school of engineering has a plan for growth, and it is not leaving women out of the equation.
Female students, who make up about 20 percent of the school, are “underrepresented,” as stated by Florence Boldridge, director of Diversity and Women’s Engineering Programs.
“What I found many years ago when going into this line of work was that young ladies thought, ‘Well, I’m just not good enough, I’m not smart enough,’” Boldridge said. “But females bring a totally different perspective to the field of engineering.”
To increase the female population in the school, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) holds a weekend camp for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors in the fall and spring semesters. About 30 to 40 girls attend each camp, some attendees coming from out-of-state. The girls take a tour of campus and of the school, explore the different areas of study within the school and work on small projects.
The next camp is scheduled for Nov. 17 to 18, and Boldridge said she is expecting more attendees than ever before, as about 50 girls have already signed up. Boldridge credits this to the school’s recruitment officials sending out more invitations — about 4,000 — in an overall effort to attract more students to the University.
Associate Dean Robert Sorem said recruitment has been a major focus for the school of engineering for the past five or six years, and the K-12 programs are just a part of this.
In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback signed the University Engineering Initiative Act, which set aside funding for three Kansas schools, including the University, with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of engineering graduates.
This year, the school of engineering enrolled about 530 freshmen, a 22 percent increase.
If the school maintains this number, Sorem said, that would be enough to meet the goal.
“There’s a huge need for engineering graduates, and we’re trying to fill that need,” Sorem said. “Enrollment will continue to grow because the large freshman class will matriculate through.”
Although the school is succeeding in improving enrollment, Boldridge said that the number of incoming female students remained stagnant.
Reba Liggett, a senior from Mankato, Kan., said she is only one of three female students in the senior class in the department of electrical engineering.
Liggett received an English degree from the University in 2008. After graduating, she worked for a newspaper and lived with her parents.
“I figured I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life,” Liggett said. “Growing up, my dad worked at a utility company, and he was influential in me becoming an electrical engineer. It’s something I know. The math and science come easy to me.”
When looking at coming back to the University, Liggett researched the Society of Women Engineers. She learned that the group helps instill interest for engineering in high school and middle school, and she joined on that premise.
“The population of women engineers in the school is really small. This is a way to connect with other women who are bucking tradition and going into a field that is typically male-centric,” Liggett said.
Liggett is now the president of SWE; she interacts with middle school and high school girls at camps throughout the year. Last year, she was an RA for a weekend camp. She took the attendees around the school and led a group participating in a computer science–based activity. At the school’s welcome back barbeque this semester, Liggett was able to see some of those girls again.
“A lot of girls came up and said, ‘Yeah, I came to that weekend of engineering,’” Ligget said.
Although women continue to be underrepresented in the school, and there has not been much evidence of short-term results, Boldridge acknowledged that there has been growth in the long-term. Last week, Boldridge began her 29th year as director of Diversity and Women’s Engineering Programs. When she began working for the University, the school of engineering was about 10 percent female, she said. Since then, that percentage has doubled.
“The trend lately has been that yes, ladies are smart enough, they are good enough. They can be equal to those men,” Boldridge said. “It’s improved.”