The Society of Women Engineer's: A call for inclusion
Supporting diversity of the profession and broadening participation in engineering are dual goals that can help transform STEM disciplines.
“It's funny, those of us who are in the field don't think about the fact that five out of 10 people don't know what the word STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) means. So it was a huge thing when the president called it out in his speech,” Bevlee Watford, Ph.D., PE, said.
“Unfortunately, the problem exists from K-12 through post-secondary education. And, at the end of the day, we are still looking at significantly low numbers of women in most engineering fields. In many cases, we've eliminated the overt actions that cause women to move away from engineering, but there are still issues in both the educational and the professional systems. The climate is slow to change—and I mean real change, not surface change.”
Watford is the program director for Broadening Participation in Engineering (BPE) in the Engineering Education and Centers Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF), but she spoke from her experience as a director of Virginia Tech's Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity.
“We have a pipeline problem,” she said. “There are issues with students who are ill-equipped to pursue engineering disciplines. Their educational background does not provide the content they need to succeed as undergraduates, or even to be admitted into a program. There are real barriers for all students, but I think women are impacted because we're still trying to climb out of a hole, while the guys were never in the hole to begin with.
“Two additional barriers that we're dealing with now are the financial burden of earning a post-secondary education and the preparation for engineering,” she said. “We've really got to reach back and solve that. On the positive side, we're starting to see more attention to science content in the K-12 arena, which we hope will improve student preparation and excite them about engineering.”
To read the full article in SWE's Spring 2014 publication, click here.
Edited by Jessica DuBois-Maahs, associate content manager, CFE Media, jdmaahs[a]cfemedia.com.