Women in Engineering works to increase number of female undergraduates, faculty

Van Nguyen

The number of female undergraduates and faculty in the engineering departments at UT are trending upward, and the Women in Engineering Program is working to make those numbers match the demographic of Texas – 50 percent women.

Since 2006, the percentage of women faculty members has increased from 10 to 16 percent, according to data provided by the engineering department.

For undergraduates, the number has gone from 21 percent to 26 percent.

The increasing numbers at UT are similar to national averages, according to WEP director Tricia Berry.

“The national enrollment is hovering around 20 percent,” Berry said. “We’re on a very slow trajectory upwards, which is a positive.”

The WEP has programs designed to recruit as well as retain female students and outreach programs for students K-12 to help increase interest for young female candidates. 

WEP hosts an event known as “Girl Day,” which brings more than 5,000 elementary and middle school students to campus to participate in engineering activities and watch demonstrations.

WEatUT and CREATEatUT are programs designed by WEP for high school students interested in the engineering field.

Meagan Wey, a student worker at the WEP, said UT has one of the highest female engineering populations in the nation, which the WEP has helped increase through community outreach.

“Not being supported in the way you need to be told you can do it [is a factor in the low numbers],” said Wey, a mechanical engineering and French senior. “I’ve talked to students in recruiting to UT who say ‘I’m really interested in being an engineer but my physics teacher told me I couldn’t do it.’”

Wey also said the low number of female faculty members also lead to fewer role models for girls who may be interested in studying in the engineering field.

“If your faculty numbers are really low, then what student is sitting in a classroom saying ‘I can see myself as a professor one day?’” Wey said.

Lynn Katz, faculty chair of the Engineering Faculty Women’s Organization, said while the numbers for women faculty members may seem low compared to the national average, UT is doing well.

“When we look at search committees now for positions, we broaden the search,” Katz said. “Instead of looking narrowly at a particular topic we try and be broader and that brings in more candidates. …Each female candidate who visits the University meets with the engineering women faculty organization to talk about what it’s like to be at UT and in the School of Engineering.”

Across the University, schools have done a better job at increasing diversity when hiring new faculty members, Katz said. According to her, more diversity leads to better schools overall.

“People think of engineering as math and science as opposed to creating solutions to problems,” Katz said. “The more we try and enlighten people as to the breadth of engineering, that it isn’t just applied science, it is really creating solutions to problems that face the planet and people.”