By John S. Usher, Associate Dean
Where are all the girls in engineering? As I look at the recent numbers here at Speed School, I wonder. Right now, our undergraduate enrollment is at 19.4% female, which is actually up from 15.5% in 2010. Still that number seems far too low to me. I’m no expert on the subject, but my opinion is that girls do not get positive messages growing up about engineering as a potential profession. One might argue that this is caused by cultural attitudes among parents. Girls can’t do math. That’s completely ridiculous. The females in my classes here do just as well with complex math as their male counterparts. Girls need to choose a profession that is less demanding and more conducive to rearing a family in the future. Again, I would point to many of our female graduates who have found engineering to be an excellent profession that can be enriching and flexible for women who choose to build a solid family life. I would argue that engineering is a great degree choice, that sets graduates up for a wide variety of professions, including being a great mom. Girls are more interested in professions that allow them to show compassion and concern for improving the human condition. This may be true and may be why girls tend to choose degrees in fields such as nursing, teaching, and social work. But I don’t buy the logic, because it is through engineering that girls can often have a profound impact on improving quality of life for others, for example, by designing more efficient hospitals and health care facilities, creating new medical devices that save lives, building smarter power grids that reduce greenhouse gasses, building improved water systems that protect the environment, and so on.
In fact, while parents and society play an important role in messaging to our female youth, it ultimately is the fault of the engineering profession who has not delivered the message in clear and compelling ways. We need to improve our story and re-double our efforts to reach girls at younger ages. Waiting until high school to try to convince a young woman to study calculus and physics, is way too late. We need to show girls that engineering wants them and needs them to create a better world in the future.
Check out a company who is trying to change the perception. www.goldieblox.com
and check out their Rube Goldberg video.
For more on the opportunities for girls (and boys) to learn about engineering, check out the Speed School outreach programs! http://louisville.edu/speed/outreach
Women can’t do math? That’s an excuse, not a fact.