More women choosing engineering, faculty says

Undergraduate female enrollment at 25 per cent for 2009-10

Laura Garner, Sci ’12, says she’s never felt out of place in engineering despite women making up a quarter of the class.
Laura Garner, Sci ’12, says she’s never felt out of place in engineering despite women making up a quarter of the class.

Queen’s wants to make sure prospective female engineering students see themselves in the program—literally.

The Faculty of Applied Science is recruiting female students with a video blog feature on their new prospective student website.

The video blogs feature three students, two of whom are women, going through their first year in the program.

The students update their blogs four times per term after their scripts are reviewed by the faculty, Applied Science Associate Dean (Academic) Lynann Clapham said.

“We provide suggestions but we don’t provide the blogging content,” she said, adding that they will focus on issues such as orientation week, move-in day and mid-terms.

Within a week of its launch on Sept. 25, the video blogs received more than 1,000 unique viewers and 75 per cent of them were women, Clapham said.

The girls were chosen because of their different personalities, she said, adding that the faculty wants to show engineering is for all types of women.

Clapham said Queen’s has one of the highest rates of female enrollment in engineering in Canada.

This year, the entering undergraduate class is 25 per cent female.

“It’s been steady at 23 per cent for the past 10 years,” she said, adding that in the 1990s female enrollment reached 25 per cent.

Some universities only attract a 10 per cent female enrollment in engineering, she said.

“One of the reasons we’ve done fairly well over the years is because of our main philosophy: create, collaborate, communicate,” she said. “A lot of other universities are very competitive and I think girls are attracted to the collaborative aspect of our program.” Clapham said the video and site information emphasize the collaborative aspects of engineering such as team building.

“We’ve been redoing our recruitment material to really emphasize those aspects of our program.”

The faculty also introduced a biomedical stream in chemical engineering and a biomechanical stream in mechanical engineering to attract female students because they tend to be attracted to the biological aspects of engineering, she said.

“We tend to get a certain quadrant of boys who have grown up underneath their parent’s car. ... They get conditioned from a very early age to do things that would lead them into engineering,” she said. “Girls aren’t doing things that would involve technical issues, so even if they are very technically competent they aren’t doing things to cultivate it.”

Clapham said she spoke to some female students at the Ontario Universities Fair in late September who asked whether they could go into engineering despite never having taken anything apart and put it back together.

She said the faculty hopes initiatives like the video blogs dispel stereotypes about people in engineering.

“We want this to be one more average career that an average high school girl would think about going into.”

Laura Garner, Sci ’11, said she hasn’t felt out of place in any of her engineering classes.

“I’ve never experienced anything where I felt it would have made any difference if I were a guy,” she said. “We’re always working on design team projects and a lot of times you’ll be the only girl but I’ve never experienced anything where I thought I was being singled out.”

Garner, who studies civil engineering, said she chose the field because she liked math and science in high school and thought an engineering degree would be more useful in finding a job than a math or science-specific degree.

She said she thinks some female students might be more inclined to go into engineering if they see photos of female students and professors in brochures.

The faculty’s dean, Kim Woodhouse, is a woman.

“I think it definitely sends a good message,” Garner said. “To me, it never really felt that it made that much of a difference.”

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