For the second year in a row, Texas A&M has the largest class of female freshmen engineering majors in the nation.
Women at Texas A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering are present in greater numbers than the national enrollment average, and administrators and student leaders hope their presence continues to spike through a variety of initiatives on campus and throughout Texas. This increase is a cornerstone of the Look College’s plan to enroll 25,000 engineers by 2025 as part of its 25 by 25 Initiative.
As of fall 2014, women in Texas A&M’s engineering college numbered just over 21 percent of the college’s enrollment, compared to the 19.9 percent national average. Shawna Fletcher, director of the Women in Engineering Program at Texas A&M, said the difference is due to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programs across the state of Texas.
“I think in Texas there are a lot of programs at the K-12 level that women are getting involved in,” Fletcher said. “What I am seeing is that they have added STEM courses in schools, after-school girls’ programs in robotics, they have ‘FIRST’ robotics, all of those things combined with positive changes in the media has something to do with it.”
It is estimated the Look College enrolled 815 female freshman engineers this fall, giving A&M the title of largest female freshmen engineering enrollment in the nation for the second year in a row. These numbers will be certified later in the semester by Texas A&M’s Data and Research Services, but estimates were provided by A&M’s Women in Engineering program.
Jayci Blake, president of the Texas A&M Society of Women Engineers and chemical engineering senior, said it is important that the image of what an engineer “should look like” changes.
“One of the most interesting differences that I have seen as a female looking back on three years, is kind of the push to let female engineering students see that engineering isn’t just about getting out there and turning a wrench,” Blake said. “It definitely can be and it’s an important part of it, but it’s also more about this branch of thought and how to approach a problem and work through it to find the best solution.”
Valerie Taylor, senior associate dean for academic affairs with the College of Engineering, said more companies are working on programs to help get female students interested in STEM.
“[Companies] host huge outreach events for middle school students, and middle school is a critical time for girls,” Fletcher said. “They either decide they are going to do engineering or not.”
Taylor said the College of Engineering will continue to work on programs from recruitment to graduation to draw and retain women in engineering majors.
Blake said one of the most important factors is building a community of female engineers to support and encourage each other.
“It is absolutely important to get female students here and it’s important to help them find their path after school, But I think what drives some female students to stay in the college of engineering, especially freshman and sophomores, is just to see those seniors and super seniors that have done it,” Blake said. “They’ve gone through all the senior design classes, they have spent their nights at the lab working on projects and homework, but they are about to graduate and be engineers in the real world.”
Taylor said it is imperative to have women engineers in the workforce.
“It is important to have the population of women engineers mimic that of the demographics of society, as such that the end products are appropriate for society as a whole,” Taylor said.