Today, Mahera S. Philobos, Director of the Georgia Institute of Technology's Women in Engineering program, joins us as a guest to write about the ongoing efforts of those in the profession to attract young women to engineering. Philobos is a civil and aeronautical engineer who was awarded the Society of Women Engineers Award for Aerospace Engineering in 1995, among many other honors.

Mahera S. Philobos

The recent Associated Press article on women in engineering brought much needed public attention to the ongoing challenge of increasing female participation in engineering majors and careers. Since the release of this article, our Women in Engineering office at the Georgia Institute of Technology has received many interesting comments and inquiries.

This is good news to me, because it says that concern and interest about this issue is no longer confined to the world of academia and engineering-based industries. It is something that has captured—at least for the moment—the attention of a broader audience. The 22 January entry of Tech Talk (see "Getting Women Into Engineering Still Frustrates") points out many of the far-reaching efforts to encourage promising young women to enter engineering, as well as to those programs available at universities such as Georgia Tech to support female students once they select engineering majors.

The National Science Foundation supported a comprehensive evaluation of Women in Engineering programs in 2002—in the Women's Experiences in College Engineering (WECE) Project—which affirmed resoundingly that programmatic interventions that enhance the educational experience contribute to the vital issue of retaining women in engineering once they enter college.

At Georgia Tech, this certainly is the case. The female students in the College of Engineering are examples of success in this regard. Their GPAs remain consistently higher than their male counterparts, in addition to their outstanding leadership and community service efforts. Nearly 87 percent of the female freshmen in the College of Engineering end up with an engineering degree within 5 years, compared to an average national retention rate of about 60 percent. These women, who are our future leaders, leave Georgia Tech with a special feeling of community with the broad population of "women in engineering" everywhere. They are the professional engineers who return to campus to mentor engineering students; and who reach out to middle and high school girls to encourage them to pursue engineering careers.

Further, I would like to comment on the AP article's reference to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 38 percent female enrollment, in contrast to Georgia Tech's 21 percent. We really need to look at the contribution of our finest academic institutions in absolute numbers when we are talking about answering the nation's need for more female engineers. The 38 percent of women engineering students at MIT represent 664 students. At Georgia Tech, our "modest" 21 percent represents over twice the MIT female enrollment—we have nearly 1550 female undergraduate engineering students. And Georgia Tech has produced more women engineers than any other institution in the United States over the last five years.

We are all working to effect a culture change taking place in a subtle yet constant and pervasive way. It is a movement that is as much social as it is economic—a movement that seeks to change the culture of engineering to one that has gender equity. It seeks to impact the profession in a very special way. Not by morphing women into female versions of the stereotypical male engineer but by contributing their unique perspectives and attributes to the profession.

We at Georgia Tech and at many universities nationwide continue in our relentless efforts to achieve diversity and gender equity in the engineering profession. As our programs continue to enjoy ever-growing participation, so will our positive impact. We are resolute to continue the charge until the field of engineering achieves what the fields of law, medicine, and business are accomplishing: proportional representation of women in these once male-dominated professions.


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