In engineering, females tackle gender diversity

Junior electrical engineering major Brittany Fleming is among the 113 female undergraduates and graduates enrolled in the College of Engineering. As of the 2006-2007 school year, 85.9 percent of the undergraduates and graduates enrolled in

Junior electrical engineering major Brittany Fleming is among the 113 female undergraduates and graduates enrolled in the College of Engineering. As of the 2006-2007 school year, 85.9 percent of the undergraduates and graduates enrolled in the College of Engineering are male.

“In all of my classes, there were never more than three girls in a class,” Fleming said.

Fleming, treasurer for Temple’s chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, said her interest in math and science in high school prompted her to major in electrical engineering. She still recalls leaving her freshman orientation questioning her decision to pursue a career as an engineer.

“During orientation we had to get separated in our groups. In the engineering group there were all guys and two girls. The other girl switched her major to business before orientation was over. I was sitting there with all these guys and that was strange,” Fleming said.

According to the Engineering Workforce Commission, there were 70,579 female undergraduates enrolled in engineering programs nationwide in 2005 compared to 338,747 male undergraduates. Gaelle Clerge, a junior civil engineering major, also said that attending classes with a maximum of three females is a daily occurrence.

“In my first lab there were only three girls in a class of 20 guys.” Clerge, president of Temple’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said.

“I think we definitely need a lot more females in the field.” Fleming said she feels there is such a low amount of females in the profession because of the way the field is perceived by women. “Most females look at it like it’s too hard or they may think they are not going to do good in this major because they are females,” Fleming said.

Dr. Zdenka J. Delalic, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said that it “was more difficult dealing with so many men” than dealing with the course material during her undergraduate studies in engineering.

“It was a fight from my first year in college all the way through. It never stops,” Delalic, who is currently the only female professor in her department, said.

Jacquelin Speck, a sophomore electrical engineering major, said she also found male classmates to be somewhat intimidating.

“Sometimes you get funny looks when you answer questions because you’re a girl. You can tell that the guys in class get a little bit competitive,” Speck said.

Ailar Javadi, a junior electrical engineering major, said she has grown accustomed to the behavior of her male classmates. “All the males would look at you so weird and watch you up and down the whole time. It was noticeable that they were paying attention to me. It was uncomfortable but after a while you get use to it,” she said. Javadi, president of both Temple’s IEEE chapter and Women in Engineering, said she was attracted to the engineering profession because it lacked female engineers.

“Schools don’t educate females about the field of engineering and how it can work well for them,” Javadi, said.

Delalic said there are major differences in the United States’ engineering work force when compared to other countries.

“Our graduate students are mostly from India and they are at least 50 percent women. Russia has more than 50 percent of women in engineering,” Delalic said. “The problem in this country is math and science starting from junior high on.”

According to the National Academy of Sciences, high school students generally score lower than their international counterparts in math and science tests. More than half the engineering degrees awarded by the nation’s universities are given to foreign-born students.

“For girls, if they are not perfect in math and physics, they think it’s really far away from their knowledge to go into engineering,” Delalic said. “We need to have more female engineer professors. We have to encourage more females into physics, math, chemistry and biology.”

Speck agreed that there is not enough encouragement for females to explore engineering as a career.

“Girls aren’t really encouraged to pursue technical interests in society. I know that we’re capable of it and a lot of girls probably do have technical interests but people think that it is a male profession,” Speck said.

Dr. Adrienne Cooper, an assistant professor
in the department of civil engineering and environmental engineering, said the low number of females in the engineering field can also be connected to the way the profession is marketed.

“We don’t market it as a nurturing profession and a helping profession. Engineering at its heart is a servicing profession,” Cooper said. “We’re getting past the point where the science and the math are the limiting factors. If you go into a classroom and ask how many people want to be a doctor, the girls will raise their hands.” But if you ask that same classroom how many would think about engineering, it’s not nearly as attractive a profession,” Cooper added.

In an effort to recruit more females into the engineering field, the College of Engineering launched a new program called Women’s Engineering Explorations this past summer. The program, directed by Dr. LeRoy Alaways, a lecturer in the mechanical engineering department, is a one week on-campus summer residency program for high school students. The students learn engineering principles and reinforce their math and science skills. Alaways initiated the program to introduce high school females to the challenges and rewards a career in engineering can offer.

“Females are not told they can be engineers. They’re directed somewhere else,” Alaways said. “Once they’re introduced to engineering and realize they’re welcomed and can do everything and they’re just as talented as everybody else, they’ll go for it.”

Junior electrical engineering major Travis Banks said he supports the integration of more females in the engineering field, adding that the he has seen a change in the industry. As an intern at the Weyerhauser Company, an international forest products company, Banks said he has seen male co-workers succumb to the pressure.

“Some of the best engineers I’ve seen have been women,” Banks said. “Females have so many characteristics that men don’t, such as patience, the ability to multi-task and a different perspective on things male engineers take for granted. In engineering the main thing you have to have is patience. I’ve seen men start a project over off of one mistake.”

Brittany Diggs can be reached at

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.