More U.S. Female Engineers Needed For Future Technological Advances, Expert Says

Doubling the number of women engineers—to three in 10—needed for nation to attain its true potential for innovation




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200711/parkandride1204.jpg

A. Sue Weisler

Workshops, such as “Park & Ride: Amusement Park Ride Design—An Engineering Program for Middle School Girls,” are among the outreach initiatives sponsored by RIT’s WE@RIT aimed at encouraging young girls and women to pursue engineering studies and careers. Above, sixth- and seventh-grade girls from Bloomfield School District work on a LEGO robotic project in 2004.

In order for the United States to capitalize on the intellectual potential offered by women—leading to more and greater technological advances—the number of female engineers needs to double. That’s the assessment of a Rochester Institute of Technology engineering professor who says reaching a “critical mass” of 30 percent women engineers will foster innovation as never before seen.

“I think then we will start to see even a different level of innovation happening,” says Margaret Bailey, the Kate Gleason Chair and professor of mechanical engineering in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. “As teams become more diverse and more functional, the results become more innovative—I’ve seen it time and time again.”

While some engineering fields have seen recent dramatic rises in the number of female engineers—the number of women civil engineers increased 186 percent from 1983 to 2002—female engineers currently comprise 14.5 percent of the U.S. engineering workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Speaking on the RIT news podcast “Studio 86,” Bailey says women’s untapped “intellectual capital” has existed for decades in the United States.

“In this country, for the past 100-plus years, we have made great strides on the industrial front, the technological front—and we can attribute that largely to the intellectual capital from men,” Bailey says. “But as we move ahead, there’s so much potential that exists in a whole other portion—a large portion—of the population that we haven’t really even tapped into in a meaningful way.”

At RIT, Bailey says, a greater number of female engineering students—along with other forms of diversity beyond gender—can enhance the learning environment for women and men within the engineering college and university-wide.

Bailey also serves as executive director of WE@RIT, a group of RIT faculty and staff established in 2004 that promotes an increase in female engineers through outreach, recruitment and retention initiatives. The group annually sponsors 20 programs targeting students from the fourth-grade through college and encouraging young girls and women in their pursuit of engineering studies and careers.

RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering also hosts a nationally recognized student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (an organization founded in 1950) and is the only engineering college in the nation named for a woman. Kate Gleason was America’s first female engineering student, the first female bank president in the United States and the first woman elected a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She was the daughter of William Gleason, founder of what became Rochester-based Gleason Corp.

Regarding RIT’s distinction for having the only engineering college named for a woman, Bailey adds, “I’m anxiously awaiting when we won’t be able to make this boast—when there’ll be numerous colleges of engineering named for a woman.”

Note:For more information on RIT’s WE@RIT, visit http://www.rit.edu/~women
Hear the entire interview at http://www.thetigerbeat.com/rss/podcasts/studio86_11-20-07.m4a
Editors: To interview Margaret Bailey, contact Will Dube at (585) 475-2816 or wjduns@rit.edu
Broadcast editors: For uncut audio, contact Michael Saffran at (585) 475-5697 or mjsuns@rit.edu
200711/parkandride1204.jpg

A. Sue Weisler

Workshops, such as “Park & Ride: Amusement Park Ride Design—An Engineering Program for Middle School Girls,” are among the outreach initiatives sponsored by RIT’s WE@RIT aimed at encouraging young girls and women to pursue engineering studies and careers. Above, sixth- and seventh-grade girls from Bloomfield School District work on a LEGO robotic project in 2004.