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For the first time, a US college had more female engineering graduates than men

It's happening!

FIONA MACDONALD
24 JUN 2016
 

Dartmouth College has just announced that it had more women than men graduate from its engineering course this year - an accomplishment they're claiming is a first for any research university in the US.

While more and more women have been enrolling in engineering courses over the past decade, this is reportedly the first time graduating females have outweighed males anywhere in the country - suggesting that we might finally be approaching the tipping point for the male domination of the field.

 

Although this is crazy exciting news, there are a couple of things to mention here. First, we're taking Dartmouth's word on the whole "first research college in the US" thing for now - it hasn't been independently verified as yet.

Secondly, while Dartmouth is an ivy league school, it's also relatively small, and it doesn't break its engineering courses into majors, such as civil or chemical engineering, like most other colleges do, so its degrees aren't entirely comparable.

But keeping that in mind, this is still a big deal - on average, only 19.9 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees in the US are awarded to women, and just 10 years ago, only a quarter of Dartmouth's engineering graduates were females.

This year, on the other hand, the college handed out 54 percent of its engineering degrees to females. Can someone give us a "Yasss"?

"We all recognise this as important," Joseph Helble, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, told David Brooks from the Concord Monitor. "This has been an issue in engineering education for decades. Diversity is something that we talk about frequently, part of the issue of national competitiveness."

Helble claims the gender shift is due to the college purposefully hiring female role models in engineering, and also changing the way it structures its course, so students aren't broken up into specialities. 

 

He says this works because certain engineering majors, such as mechanical and electrical engineering, are heavily male-dominated, and that can put women off further study - research has shown that being an obvious minority group in something can discourage people from continuing to participate.

Also, by teaching engineering as one stream, they allow students to combine applied science with some of the more theoretical work, which shows them the potential of their research.

"We’ve been able to attract more students, and especially women, by letting them use engineering to solve real-world challenges," said Helble. "They quickly learn how their creativity and engineering skills can make a real difference."

According to Randy Atkins, director of communications at the US National Academy of Engineering, that perception is slowly shifting across the country. 

"We're changing the image of engineering to a creative profession, a problem-solving profession ... That is resonating with more women, helping them see engineering in a new way," Atkins told Brooks. 

Whatever they're doing, let's hope the progress continues, and a 50/50 split in engineering becomes the new normal.

After all, we've come a long way from the days of female computer programmers being confused with promotional models, but we've still got work to do before the ideas and research of both men and women get equal attention in the field.

"Now we’ve hit 50 percent, you’d better believe I’m going to talk about it with colleagues from other institutions," said Helble.

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