Cockrell School of Engineering increases number of women

Matthew Adams

An initiative from the Cockrell School of Engineering continues to progress toward the goal of increasing the number of women in the program.

Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering Program, said the school saw an overall increase to 30 percent women in this incoming class — the highest ever for the school.

Berry said to increase diversity within the school, the Women in Engineering Program is working to recruit potential students and get them interested in the program.

“What we are doing is trying to communicate to admitted students and encourage them to come,” Berry said. “We are trying to get more female students to apply to engineering.”

The Women in Engineering Program was developed in 1991 to recruit and train female engineering students, increase the percentage of female graduates and provide a support structure for the students to succeed.

Another step taken by the School of Engineering includes the 35-in-5 initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of female students enrolled in mechanical engineering to 35 percent in the incoming class of freshmen in five years, said Carolyn Seepersad, engineering professor and faculty involved in the initiative.

In only two years, Seepersad said the mechanical engineering department has seen the incoming class of women grow from 19 percent to 25 percent of the department’s student population. Seepersad said this is also double the national average for mechanical engineering departments, at 12 percent.

Part of the reason why the national average number of females in mechanical engineering is low is because of misunderstanding about the term ‘mechanical engineering’, Seepersad said.

“The name mechanical makes people imagine mechanics … but that does not appeal to as many women as other applications might,” Seepersad said. “One of the things we have to get across to people is that it is very broad. It encompasses biomechanics, 3-D printing [or] additive manufacturing.”

“At this point we are at the top of the [mechanical engineering] public schools in terms of [percent] freshmen, and second only to the private schools, who don’t have very many restrictions regarding admissions,” Jayathi Murthy, chair of the mechanical engineering department said in an email.

Saadia Razvi, a senior in mechanical engineering and president of the Women in Mechanical Engineering, said she has enjoyed her time in the department and has not felt intimated or discriminated against because she is a woman and minority. 

Razvi said during her time she has seen a few women switch major,s but most of them did not do that because they were afraid of engineering.

“A friend of mine is thinking of switching from engineering to math or computer science because she does not want to work on the typical engineering things,” Razvi said. “She is interested in STEM fields so she doesn’t want to study just mechanical engineering as she feels the courses she needs to take, such as computer science or math, are more beneficial to her.”
Razvi said being involved in groups during her time at UT has provided her leadership and opportunities to participate in research studies starting her freshman year. While Razvi said she participated in recruiting events held by the Women in Engineering Program, her student group is involved in more community projects.
“This semester, we are trying to tutor in local high schools and mentor girls,” Razvi said. “Eventually we would like to have connections with schools in the Austin area where we can mentor their high school girls with college applications or getting them excited about engineering.”