A room full of boys and only a handful of girls – female students are still a minority in engineering classrooms. While the University boasts of having graduated more undergraduate women engineers in 2000 than any other school in the country, many feel that there is still much to be done to even out the ratio of male and female engineers.

“At Michigan, we’re doing really well, but we can always do better,” said Debbie Taylor, director of the Women in Engineering Office.

Just 27 percent of the School of Engineering, a small percentage when compared to that of other colleges. In contrast, the undergraduate population of the School of Literature, Science and Arts in 2001 was 55 percent female.

Engineering sophomore Erin Robbins said it is very easy to be intimidated in such a male-dominated field.

“Some classes are very divided, the girls sit in one group and the boys sit in another,” she said. “They don’t take the female students seriously sometimes.”

Many indicated that the disparity was more apparent in the electrical, aerospace and computer science engineering programs than in others.

Debby Ross, a second-year graduate student in the College of Engineering said that she noticed a lack of female professors during her undergraduate years.

“I think the whole time I was in undergrad I had one female professor,” she said. “Women need to be involved in the process of shaping the field because without their input, that shaping will be biased.”

In the 1970s Colleen McGee, a lecturer in technical communication in the College of Engineering, wasn’t surprised when the majority of her colleagues were male. She says that today, however, it bothers her that women have not integrated more into the field. She added that in a national survey taken a few years ago, female students described the engineering community as a “cold atmosphere.”

Taylor cited the lack of information and exposure to engineering as being largely responsible for the under-representation of women in the field. She added the climate is not so conducive for middle school and high school girls.

“I think that a large part of the problem is that the public is ignorant of what an engineer does,” Taylor said. “High school counselors don’t know what we do and so they don’t present it as an option.”

Programs such as Women in Science and Engineering are working to change the status quo.

“I think exposure to the field is getting better, but not the tracking of the girls,” Ross said. “I think these programs give women a community within the engineering community.”

Taylor indicated the Women in Engineering Program Advocates Network offers a number of pre-college programs to cultivate interest among young girls. Summer programs include Future Science-Future Engineering, which is geared toward middle school girls, and the Grace Hopper Project for high school girls.

Marina Epelman, an assistant professor of Industrial Operation in Engineering said that as a teacher she wants to make sure that everyone is encouraged to consider engineering.

“We want women to know that, yes, this is an option you can pursue,” she said.

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