Assistant professor, Arizona State University
Kevin Bair, an ASU graduate student, was working with Santos developing multiple anthropomorphic robotic hands in early 2011. Things were progressing on this sophisticated project when Bair died in a kayak accident. Though Santos and the lab were grieved by his loss, they eventually pressed forward. With her guidance, ASU completed the project and, in Bair's honor, named the robotic hand Bair Claw.
@Ann: According to the ASEE report I linked to below, in the U.S. in 2011, 18% of engineering bachelor's degrees and 23% of engineering master's degrees were awarded to women.
At first, it may seem strange that relatively more women are getting master's degrees than bachelor's degrees. Keep in mind, though, that 44% of engineering master's degrees (compared to just 7% of engineering bachelor's degrees) are awarded to foreign students. Many of these students come from countries, such as China, where there is greater gender balance in engineering than in the U.S.
On the other hand, some of the top U.S. engineering schools seem to be well ahead of the curve. Women earn 45% of engineering bachelor's degrees at Olin, and 43% of engineering bachelor's degrees at MIT. Some of the historically black colleges, such as Howard and Tuskegee, also have high percentages of women engineering graduates (38% and 36%, respectively).
I agree with you that progress is slow, but there is real progress.
Dave, thanks for the stats. They are definitely encouraging. On entering Caltech, my niece would have preferred to concentrate entirely on academics. But she found it necessary to get a boyfriend right away: the guys were literally lined up outside her door. The unequal numbers meant she had to give time and energy to social issues that would be better used for getting through what's a grueling enough experience. I hope that situation will change, soon.
How many female engineers should there be? And what do you base your answer on?
I don't think it is fair to assume that if 50% of the people are women in this country that 50% of the engineers should be women. To assume this is to assume that women and men are completely wired the same, and are similarly suited to all tasks, and have the same desires. There are things that the "average" woman can do much better than the "average" man, and vice versa. The men and women that I know generally have different interests.
I think as many women as truly have the desire and aptitude to be engineers should be engineers. Not some percentage based on gender distribution.
I tried to get my daughter to get interested in enginnering. She had very good math skills, and I felt that she would be good at it. She was not interested, and I didn't press it. She is a practicing doctor of physical therapy, which is what SHE wanted to do.
I don't find it unusual or unacceptable that there are more male engineers than female, unless there are discriminatory practices keeping women who desire, and are able, from becoming engineers. Is anyone asserting that discrimination is causing this?
@ttemple: It's certainly true that the number of women engineers should be based on desire and aptitude, rather than a fixed number. On the other hand, I also think that there are strong cultural factors that tend to discourage women from considering engineering as a career. (If that weren't the case, you'd expect the percentage of women engineers to be more or less the same in every country; it's not. You'd also expect the proportion to be more or less constant over time; in fact, it's steadily increasing).
Discrimination? Not so much. But, unlike your daughter, many young women don't have anyone encouraging them to go into engineering. Until they do, we aren't really going to know what the "proper" or "natural" number of women engineers is.
For what it's worth, neither of my daughters seems to be particularly interested in an engineering career, and that's fine with me. The important thing is for them to be aware of all of their possible career opportunities, and to choose what works best for them.
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