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Slideshow: Meet 11 Finalists in Our Rising Engineering Stars Contest

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Ann R. Thryft
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More women engineers
Ann R. Thryft   1/10/2013 1:24:19 PM
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It's great to see a woman in this list. Lauren, are there more women among the finalists you'll be posting tomorrow?

Lauren Muskett
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Re: More women engineers
Lauren Muskett   1/10/2013 1:48:43 PM
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Hi Ann, No more women are on the list, but the next group of finialists are definitely interesting!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: More women engineers
Ann R. Thryft   1/10/2013 1:53:57 PM
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Thanks Lauren. I agree--I noticed that Dave Palmer, who writes occasional columns for us, was on the list. And many of the others are also doing some fascinating work.

Dave Palmer
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Re: More women engineers
Dave Palmer   1/10/2013 7:58:41 PM
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Yeah, that Dave Palmer sure is a swell guy.

Seriously, though, it's interesting to learn about the work all of these individuals are doing.  It was great to see a college student on the list -- especially one who is going to school while working full time.

It would be great if there were more women on the list, but unfortunately, I think this reflects the relatively low number of women in the engineering, especially electrical and mechanical engineering.  Hopefully, in coming years, we will start to see a greater proportion of women on lists like this.

Charles Murray
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Re: More women engineers
Charles Murray   1/10/2013 8:57:19 PM
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Congratulations on making the list, Dave. And congrats to all who made it. It's an extremely impressive list.

Charles Murray
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Re: More women engineers
Charles Murray   1/10/2013 9:05:12 PM
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Regarding the small number of women on the list: I agree with Dave that part of the problem is the comparatively small number of women in engineering. I don't know what the percentage is today, but I believe it hovers around 10%-15%. In 1988, one of our editors, Gail Robinson, wrote a great in-depth look at this issue (about ten pages long, as I recall), and offered suggestions from experts on how to begin changing it. At the time, the percentage of women in engineering was between 10% and 15%. And now here we are -- 25 years later -- discussing the same problem, and I don't know if the percentage has even changed.

Dave Palmer
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Re: More women engineers
Dave Palmer   1/11/2013 10:31:13 AM
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@Charles: According to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up just 5.5% of mechanical engineers and 8.8% of electrical engineers.  So it's unfortunate, but not surprising, that only 2 out of the 25 "Rising Engineering Stars" are women.

That being said, the proportion of engineering degrees awarded to women, while still low, is significantly higher, suggesting that the number of women engineers -- and, hopefully, the number of women "Engineering Stars" -- may steadily increase over time.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: More women engineers
Ann R. Thryft   1/11/2013 12:58:40 PM
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Regarding women in STEM, an older friend of mine said the proportion of women students at Caltech was about 5% when he went there in the late 60s. A younger friend (male), who went there in the 80s said it had increased to about 10%. By the time my niece got there in the early 00s, it had reached 20-25%. That's really slow, but at least a definite trend.

Dave Palmer
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Re: More women engineers
Dave Palmer   1/11/2013 7:06:47 PM
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@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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: More women engineers
Ann R. Thryft   1/14/2013 11:51:25 AM
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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.

ttemple
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Re: More women engineers
ttemple   1/17/2013 1:34:37 PM
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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?

Dave Palmer
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Re: More women engineers
Dave Palmer   1/22/2013 9:09:31 PM
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@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.

Charles Murray
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Re: More women engineers
Charles Murray   1/11/2013 6:40:53 PM
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I agree, Dave. Let's hope the numbers finally start to increase. It's long, long overdue.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: More women engineers
Ann R. Thryft   1/11/2013 11:37:31 AM
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Dave, it was fun to see someone I know on this list. I think you definitely deserved to be there. And I didn't really expect to see a lot of women--I was just glad to see some.

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