Reinforcements come to engineering

DN Staff

February 6, 1995

11 Min Read
Reinforcements come to engineering

White males, once the bastion of the engineering profession, are on the decline. Taking their place are women and minority engineers. This phenomenon marks a new era in engineering.

Supported by both public and private sectors, and developed and promoted by local community-based organizations, school systems, universities, and national organizations, programs to attract more women and minorities into engineering have had a noticeable impact on college enrollments. The College Board reports that between 1987 and 1989, interest in engineering increased 7.1% among minority SAT takers, while for whites it decreased 13.5%. Moreover, the proportion of minorites enrolled in engineering exceeds the proportion of minorities enrolled in all other disciplines, collectively.

Many of the women and minority graduates come from a small number of schools, however. In the case of minorities, for example, ten institutions generated a majority of all minority graduates. High on the list: University of Puerto Rico, Georgia Tech, North Carolina A&T, Florida International, Howard, Prairie View A&M, University of Texas at El Paso, MIT, Texas A&M, and the City College of New York (CCNY).

Not surprisingly, many of these same schools turn out increasing numbers of women engineers. Here's a closer look at how well women and minorities are doing in the world of engineering.

Women making their mark

They'll never stick it out. They're only looking for husbands. That's the attitude women faced not so long ago as they entered engineering jobs in male-dominated technical fields.

How much have times changed? Latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there were 148,000 women engineers in 1993. Ten years earlier, BLS reported only 91,000 women engineers on the scene.

In spite of these gains, the total still seems minuscule when you consider that in 1993, the BLS recorded more than in 1.8 million engineers in the labor force. Therefore, women engineers comprise only 8.67% of the total engineering population. Even so, that number is up nearly 3 percentage points since 1983.

Of those women engineers on the job last year, some 40,000 were employed in the electrical/computer industry, while another 20,000 worked as industrial engineers. These two groups made up the largest segments of the women-in-engineering universe.

Helping hand. But the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), founded between 1949 and 1950, hopes to make engineering even more attractive for women. SWE now counts more than 14,000 women and men members. It has sections located in 74 areas in ten regions. Student sections are active at more than 250 colleges, universities, and engineering institutes. And SWE grants more than $170,000 in scholarships to engineering students, funded by individuals and corporations. Corporate members range from The Aerospace Corp. to the Westinghouse Electric Systems Group. NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab also belong.

In spite of this help, career obstacles continue to exist. A recent "National Survey of Women and Men Engineers" conducted by SWE found that women under thirty were irritated by attempts to "offload secretarial-type work." They want to "obtain equal salary among engineers with equal amounts of experience." Women in their forties voiced concerns about company downsizing, gender discrimination, and "the glass ceiling in management."

Declining salary scale. The salary question appears to deserve a closer look. The National Research Council found that women engineers earn roughly the same starting salaries as men, even a little higher in some fields. But in later life women fall behind, averaging about 83% of what men earn after the age of thirty.

Lee Kellett, a mechanical engineering graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA, can vouch for that. She worked at Telco Systems, a communications company, where she earned $33,000 in her entry-level job as an applications engineer. When she was promoted to product manager, she found herself earning $12,000 less than her male colleague in what was a two-person department. "I made a stink," says Kellett. "Within two weeks, I was making as much as he."

Kellett now holds the position of marketing manager for Chromatic Technologies, a producer of fiber-optic cables in Franklin, MA, at a salary "considerably above" her last position. She advises women engineers to hang in there, even if the going gets tough. "Women are different from men. You're on the ropes. You have to prove yourself," she says.

Love of computers and math. Things were not quite so tough for Cheryl Ventola, a controls engineer with Warner Electric, a division of Dana Corp., South Beloit, IL. Ventola had an inclination toward math early in life, and success with computers while in high school.

Warner hired Ventola shortly after she had received a BSEE degree, with minors in computer science and math, from Marquette University, Milwaukee. Ventola's five years at school included membership on a design team whose mission was to develop an improved artificial heart that was to be step-motor driven. Her responsibility: designing the control boards to drive the step motor. This experience proved instrumental in her being hired by Warner, a company heavily involved in developing electronics for clutches, brakes, and servo systems.

In her present position, Ventola works on clutch/brake designs, administers Warner's UL/CSA and EMI programs, and writes software for the company's new Servo Systems product line. She plans to start work soon on an MBA at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater.

"Engineers are the future of technology, and it is exciting to be part of that future, no matter how small," Ventola says. "This is a good time for women to become engineers. We are so few and there are many opportunities."

In gear with design. As a senior engineer at the Gearmotor Group, Engineering/Development Dept., at Bodine Electric Co., Chicago, Liz Mitofsky has the responsibility for all aspects of spur, helical, and worm gear design. Her job also includes design testing and a great deal of programming for integral parts of motors that power everything from photocopiers and medical equipment to packaging machinery.

In 25 years at Bodine, Mitofsky has witnessed a lot of changes in the way gears are designed. The most significant change, she says, involves increased numerical analysis. Mitofsky now does much of her work on computers. She develops and reworks programs created in-house to solve equations that answer many questions that used to be answered by testing. "More detailed analysis means shorter design turnaround time and a better product for the customers," she explains.

Mitofsky considers noise reduction as a particular specialty, backed by years of research. She doesn't even need to hear the gear at work-noise reduction is all done on computer by detailed analysis of gear-teeth motion.

Mitofsky's "mentorship" involves both her personal and professional life. With a BS in engineering mechanics from the University of Illionis in Champaign, Mitofsky still gets involved with the school, where her daughter is studying chemical engineering. For the past two years, Mitofsky has judged student projects at the university's Engineering Open House. Last year, she talked about nylon gears at the university's Engineering Mechanics Symposium. She also serves as president of the PTSA for Niles West High School, where another daughter's interests include math and physics.

Mitofsky feels that her daughters have an easier time following in their mother's footsteps. "Both sexes should have equal opportunities to study math and science," she says. "When I was in high school, I had to fight to get into the calculus class, and I wasn't permitted to take drafting. There's more equality now."

Mitofsky has a good feeling for the future of women engineers. "There are always new discoveries to be made. You're never finished. Another challenge always lies ahead."

Minority engineers on the move

Minorities are also making waves in the engineering ranks-thanks in part to two movements. The first involved a concerted industry demand for universities to add more diversity to their engineering programs. The second stemmed from a government study conducted in the mid-1970s that reported a serious under-representation of minority engineers.

From these actions, a number of Minority Science & Engineering Programs, 100 or more in all, have sprung up on campuses across the U.S. Involvement ranges from large universities, such as Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas, to predominately black schools, such as Southern University, Prairie View A&M, and North Carolina A&T.

How successful have these programs been? According to statistics compiled by the National Association of Minority Engineering Program Administrators (NAMEPA), 2,347 students enrolled in program schools obtained engineering degrees in 1979. In 1990, the latest year for which figures are available, 4,768 engineering degrees were issued to minority students in program schools.

One such program has existed at the University of Washington in Seattle since the 1980-81 academic year. Over the years, the graduation rates for "under-represented Americans" has increased from about 10% in the program's early stages to between 35 to 45% per year at present.

Based at the university's College of Engineering, the Minority Science and Engineering Program, or MSEP, provides a number of incentives for its minority students. They begin with motivational talks to pre-college students, and continue with scholarships and financial assistance, counseling, problem-solving workshops, tutoring, industry internships, and career planning. Industry members of the current advisory board include representatives from Hewlett-Packard, U.S. West Communications, Microsoft, Fluke Manufacturing, Boeing, Intermec, Westinghouse-Hanford, and Eldec.

Lisa Buck, diversity administrator at Microsoft, reports that her company not only contributes funds, but hires from eight to ten interns a year that are enrolled in the program. Many times, she adds, this working relationship leads to full time employment at Microsoft. The company has also donated software designed to streamline the program's networking capabilities.

Nationwide, the picture doesn't look as bright. Most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there were 186,000 black and "other" minority engineers, mostly Asians, in 1993. They embraced 10.8% of the total engineering population. Hispanic engineers, which include "white, black, yellow, or other races," totaled 61,000 in 1993, or 3.6% of all engineers in the United States, according to the BLS report.

In 1983, black and "other" engineers totaled only 128,000, or 8.17% of all engineers, while Hispanic engineers totaled 35,000, or 2.2% of the engineering population. So, over the ten-year period, black, other, and Hispanic engineers have made strides in increasing their numbers. Still, like women engineers, they make up only a small segment of the engineering profession.

Award winner. The careers of people like Motorola's Len deBarros testify to support programs such as those offered by NAMEPA. Hispanic Engineer magazine named deBarros the 1993 Hispanic Engineer of the Year for Professional Achievement in Industry. In June 1972, deBarros joined Motorola as an incoming inspection vendor in quality at the company's Plantation, FL, plant. Since then, he has risen through the ranks from a mechanical engineer, microprocessing engineer, and other key positions.

Presently, deBarros serves as vice president and general manager of Motorola's Advanced Messaging System Div. Among deBarros' other credits: developing mechanical engineering departments in Penang, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Hector Ruiz, senior vice president and general manager of the Motorola group, and a prior recipient of the award, said of deBarros: "It is a true privilege for me to recognize one of Motorola's most accomplished Hispanic engineers. We are extremely proud of his accomplishments and his contributions to our organization."

Road to success. Cheton Damania has traveled a long way to reach his current destination at Snap-on, Inc., a Kenosha, WI, Fortune 500 company. As a project engineer in the Power Tools Group, Damania's responsibilities range from designing power tools to getting new products into production and on the market.

Damania's career began after receiving a BS degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in India. He also holds an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of Rhode Island. Since graduation, Damania has applied his engineering knowledge to such endeavors as test equipment automation, geotechnical instrumentation design, and consulting.

Damania joined Snap-on as a design engineer in the Tool Storage Group in 1989. One of his major achievements, he recalls, involved "improving tool-box designs using finite element and modal analysis techniques." He even demonstrated his work at Snap-on's annual meeting of shareholders.

While applying his technical skills at work, Damania enrolled in the Master's Program in Engineering Management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Attending as a part-time student, he completed the program in two years, graduating with honors.

Dan Voigt, Snap-on's general manager/power tools, applauds Damania's enthusiasm and can-do attitude. He credits Damania with playing a key role in capturing the customers' voice and translating it into products that solve their needs. Further, says Voight, "Chetan capably integrates the needs of marketing, manufacturing, suppliers, and others in getting the job done."

Damania views the engineering profession as "a service to society to improve the standard of living." As technologies evolve and spread throughout the world, "the U.S. always remains the technological focal point," he emphasizes. "This country provides infinite opportunities for minority engineers to excel in developing the technologies for the future."

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