A recent Senate hearing focused on members of academia proclaiming that Title IX has done little to advance the numbers of women in science and engineering.
Title IX was a law passed in 1972 eliminating sex-based discrimination at institutions receiving federal funding.
“Our country’s majority demographics are changing from male and Caucasian to female and African-American, Asian and Hispanic,” Kristina Johnson, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, told the Senate. “We need to ensure that groups currently underrepresented in science, engineering and technology are attracted to careers in these fields. In today’s competitive global environment, we cannot afford to lose the human capital these groups represent.”
Johnson said there were a number of significant barriers to entry, including a lack of fundamental math and science standards in high school, a lack of equal access to financial aid and a lack of role models and opportunities that inspire interest.
“There is a steady decline between the fourth and 12th grades in the competency and competitiveness of U.S. students as compared to their international peers in science and mathematical understanding,” Johnson said. “The drop is even more dramatic among young girls. This is because we don’t apply the same standards to math and science instruction and expectation of student competence as we do to the social sciences . . . ”
Johnson said this decade’s “man on the moon mission” should be to provide a great technical education to elementary students so they will remain competitive by the time they graduate high school.
One engineering field experiencing abnormal numbers of female enrollment is biomedical engineering.
“Biomedical engineering is a relatively new field that combines medicine and biology,” said Robert Radlan, chair of the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin. “Biomedical engineering has been very interesting for women, and we’ve had a large number of women who are in the biomedical engineering major. We have about 40 percent of our undergraduate engineering students that are females.”
A profile from the Graduate School of Engineering reads that its 2000 enrollment of 62 graduates was comprised of only four females.
Another field in the sciences with above-average female enrollment is bacteriology. Glenn Chambliss, chair of the Bacteriology Department at UW, said bacteriology has evolved from a male-oriented major to one in which women make up a large proportion of the undergraduate enrollment.
“Bacteriology is a science that typically was male-dominated, but more recently women have become very significant components of the science,” Chambliss said. “I would guess at least half are female and even more.”
Chambliss said the increase in female enrollment has been mirrored by an increase in female faculty hirings.
“I’ve been chair since 1996, and since that time we have hired four people, and three of those have been women,” Chambliss said. “Our faculty as a whole is probably still a majority of men, but the trend is to bring a lot more women than we had in the past.”
Another profile from the Graduate School of Mathematics revealed only 26 of its 116 students were female, while mechanical engineering saw only 14 females enrolled of its total 183 students.
While the graduate numbers may be low, undergraduate enrollments in nearly all the concerned fields are increasing.
“The general trend of hiring more women is because many are qualified and would great make faculty members,” Chambliss said. “[Women] are competitive, and employers are hiring on the basis of their qualifications and not sex.