sealPurdue News

April 1995

Women in Engineering Programs Celebrate 25th Anniversary

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.–Twenty-five years ago only 47 of the 5,O16 engineering students enrolled at Purdue University were women, less than 1 percent of all the undergraduate engineering students. Women also earned less than 1 percent of the engineering degrees.

Today, more than 1,4OO of Purdue's undergraduate engineering students are women, or about 23 percent, well above the national average of 18 percent. Historically, Purdue has granted more degrees to women in engineering than any school in the country. At Purdue women receive more than 2O percent of the bachelor's degrees in engineering compared to 17 percent nationally.

Such numbers testify to the effectiveness of Purdue's Women in Engineering Programs, which will celebrate 25 years of women's achievements in engineering April 22 as part of Purdue's Gala Week. Purdue's student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers also will celebrate its 4Oth anniversary.

The organizations will hold a public reception at 5:3O p.m. April 22 in the atrium of the Materials and Electrical Engineering Building. At an invitation-only dinner that evening, Purdue's first woman astronaut, Janice Voss, will share her experiences with the space program and as a past assistant with Purdue's Women in Engineering Programs. Program directors from each decade also will be featured speakers.

One of the oldest programs of its type in the country, Purdue's Women in Engineering Programs has been under the direction of Jane Z. Daniels for the past 15 years.

"When it was first established in 1969, the mission of the Women in Engineering Programs was to discover why women weren't choosing to study engineering and why, once they got to the university, they weren't sticking around for four years to graduate," Daniels says. "What the early directors discovered was that women didn't know what engineering was because they weren't given enough information about the field. When they arrived at the university, they often discovered engineering wasn't what they had expected. Also, they received little if any encouragement."

In addition, she says, it was a difficult and sometimes intimidating environment for women.

"When you have only IO or 15 women in an entire class, and you divide that up among I O engineering disciplines, some courses would have only one female student," Daniels says.

In 1969 one of the first projects of the first director of the programs, Donna Frohreich Uyehara, was to produce a map of women's restrooms in the engineering buildings.

Through the years, Daniels says, the evolution of the Women in Engineering Programs has been dramatic. Today's recruitment programs begin as early as grade school, offering female students and their parents personal contact with engineering students and alumnae. once on campus, students receive further support and encouragement through a variety of mentoring programs, seminars and personal and professional development opportunities.

Last fall Daniels worked with personnel from Purdue's residence halls to establish two floors exclusively for engineering students in the all-female Earhart Hall, creating an encouraging living atmosphere for about 9O women engineering students. Next year she plans to add a third floor.

Another new program that Daniels and her colleagues will implement next fall is called the Campus Climate Workshop, which will provide training for the more than 2OO engineering teaching assistants to help them understand the differences that women bring into the classroom.

"The Women in Engineering Programs started out by focusing on women as a problem," Daniels says. "The original aim was to help women adapt to a typically male-dominated program and environment. Now we have faculty asking how they can change to help women engineering students feel more comfortable."

Purdue is seen as a pioneer in attracting and retaining women engineering students, Daniels says, and during the years other institutions have looked to Purdue for guidance in setting up their own programs. In the past 15 years, Daniels has received so many calls from other institutions for information on starting their own programs that in 1991, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, she co-founded a national organization called the Women in Engineering Program Advocates Network, which encourages women to become engineers. With regional centers at Purdue, the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and the University of Washington in Seattle, the network provides technical assistance, training seminars and site visits to schools that want to initiate or expand their women in engineering programs.

Today there are more than 25 programs like Purdue's at colleges and university's nationwide. In addition, Daniels has helped establish women in engineering programs worldwide, in countries such as Australia, England, Israel and New Zealand.

"With this national effort, we can share our knowledge, learn from each other and begin moving closer to equal representation of women in engineering," Daniels says. "While we still have a way to go towards parity with men, my goal is to work myself out of a job."

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