The University Record, September 11, 1995

Engineering enrolls just over 30% first-year women

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

The U-M is doing its part to guarantee that tomorrow’s engineers—the technical experts who design our cars, manage our manufacturing plants and create new bioengineered drugs and medical devices—are much more likely to be women.

Just over 30 percent of the more than 1,000 first-year students enrolled in the College of Engineering this September are women—the highest percentage in the College’s history and nearly twice the national average.

The number of U-M undergraduate women preparing for careers in engineering has been climbing since the late 1980s, according to Michael G. Parsons, associate dean for undergraduate education. In fall 1994, statistics compiled by the Engineering Workforce Commission showed that the U-M ranked third in the country—just behind the University of Puerto Rico and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—in its percentage of female engineering undergraduates. At that time, 25 percent of the more than 6,000 engineering undergraduates enrolled in the College of Engineering were women. The national average was 18.6 percent.

Parsons says the increasing number of women engineers-in-training at the U-M is no accident. It is the result of a deliberate policy decision and the efforts of many individuals and organizations.

Admissions standards for the College of Engineering are among the highest in the country and are more rigorous than any other college or school at the U-M. “The academic performance, retention rates and graduation rates of our female engineering students are virtually the same as those of male engineering students,” Parsons says.

“One of the strategic goals within the College is to build women’s enrollment up to 40 percent and make U-M the ‘place of choice’ for young women who want to study engineering,” Parsons says. “We are doing this to educate outstanding Michigan engineers and to make all our students’ educational experience a model of the year 2020 when 40 percent of the engineering workforce will be women. It’s the best preparation we can give our students for the future in which they will live and work.”

“The biggest obstacle we face in achieving this goal is the dwindling pool of young women in high school who are interested in science or engineering careers,” said Sharon R. Burch, College of Engineering director of transfer admissions and recruitment. “Engineering provides a wide variety of applications and tremendous career paths for women, as well as opportunities to express creativity not available in other professions. But we need more female role models in engineering to show young women how they can succeed.”

Parsons credits an active university-wide outreach effort to high schools and middle schools for the upward trend in women’s enrollment, including:

  • A summer engineering exploration program for high school students and regular visits to middle schools and high schools organized by the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

  • The “Summer Science for Girls” program established by the Center for the Education of Women, which brings middle school girls to campus for hands-on science activities.

  • The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) wing established in a residence hall by the Office of Student Affairs and the Center for the Education of Women, where about 100 first- and second-year engineering students live and study alongside other young women pursuing degrees in science-related fields.

  • Expanded College of Engineering merit scholarship programs that provide increased financial support for women and minority students.

    “We still have a long way to go, but the level of commitment within the College and the University makes me confident we will achieve the 40 percent goal by the year 2000,” Parsons says.

    “The more women we enroll, the more successful our future recruiting efforts will be,” Burch adds.