Engineering is an exciting career. Engineers make society better through problem solving, teamwork, and leadership. Projections have shown that the United States will have a shortage of engineers in the near future. However, currently only about 10% of all practicing engineers in the United States are women, and less than 20% of students studying engineering are women. Because of these low numbers, female engineering students can sometimes feel isolated and misunderstood. Many universities and colleges have created Women in Engineering (WIE) programs to provide support, information, and activities to encourage women to complete engineering degrees. Some universities and colleges have Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) programs, which have a focus on students not only studying engineering, but the science disciplines as well. These WIE and WISE programs, because they are supported by the university, show that the university is committed to educating women engineers. Most of them have fairly common objectives and activities.
The main objectives of most WIE and WISE programs are: to educate young women about engineering (and sometimes science) as a profession, to support and encourage young women while they are pursuing their engineering (or science) degree, and to inform young women about the opportunities that are available to them with an engineering (or science) degree.
Women in Engineering programs usually have some combination of the following activities:
Residence Program – Female engineering students can choose to live in a section of a specially designated residence hall on campus. Sometimes there are formal activities that the students participate in as a part of this type of program. However it is administered, this type of program is a great way to meet students interested in the same things and who are taking the same classes.
Tutoring Service – Tutoring centers are set up somewhere convenient (like a residence hall) for students who need an extra bit of help with their classes.
Seminar Class – Female engineering students can take an elective course for credit which provides an overview of the career opportunities for women in engineering. The course utilizes dynamic speakers (usually practicing women engineers and/or alumnae) to reinforce the student’s educational and career choices. Sometimes this course is offered to beginning students only; sometimes it’s for any student.
Merit Awards – Most WIE and WISE programs offer scholarships and merit awards to incoming freshmen and continuing students.
Mentoring Programs – Mentoring programs are either set up to pair newer students with more experienced students or to have a group mentoring experience. Some mentoring programs do both. In pair mentoring, the experienced student gives advice and guidance to the newer student. In group mentoring, all students act as mentors and as protégés. Mentoring programs can also be set up between students and faculty or between students and practicing engineers.
Plant Trips – Visits to nearby engineering employers enhance students’ technical understanding as well as their awareness of the role women play in the engineering work force.
Undergraduate Research Opportunities – Undergraduate students have the opportunity to work in a research lab on campus in their engineering area of interest. Students learn applications of their coursework and develop one-on-one relationships with graduate students and faculty.
Whatever activities a Women in Engineering or a Women in Science and Engineering Program offers, they are sure to help combat the isolation women can feel, and create a place for women who are interested in the profession to congregate and give each other support. WIE and WISE programs are truly a great resource for women engineers. In addition, most universities have student sections of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a professional society that promotes women in the engineering professions. At many universities, WIE and SWE collaborate on activities and programs. The presence of these programs only enhances your college experience. It is in your best interest to make sure that these programs exist at the university at which you will study for your engineering degree.