At Lehigh, 28 percent of engineering majors and 15 percent of computer science majors are women. Lehigh falls above many universities in terms of women’s representation in these fields but is not among the top 20 universities, according to a Washington Post article.
In light of the recent push for gender equality in the workplace, the number of women pursuing engineering and computer science degrees has increased at some of America’s top colleges and universities, according to the Washington Post article.
Nationally, men outnumber women 4 to 1 in engineering and 5 to 1 in computer science. Although men still dominate these fields, recent pushes for gender equality have been successful.
Students and professionals in the engineering and computer science fields have seen this change firsthand. Computer science major, Rachel Santagelo, ’17, has noticed changes in perceptions of women in computer science.
Santagelo said the first time she took a computer science class was in high school.
“I was the only female in the class and right off the bat there were jokes like ‘go make me a sandwich’ — really derogatory comments about me being the only girl there and that I couldn’t do (the work),” she said.
The Lehigh community is generally more accepting of women in computer science, Santagelo said.
“Girls know there are guys smarter than them,” she said. “Guys know there are girls smarter than them. I never really had any specific problems with it.”
When professor Mooi Choo Chuah of the computer science department was pursuing her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Malaya in Malaysia there were only four women out of about 200 engineering students. Chuah has been in the computer science and engineering field for around 30 years.
“Things have changed a lot from many years ago,” Chuah said.
Both students and professors noted Lehigh’s inclusive environment. Although men greatly outnumber women in these degrees, most students and professors do not feel as though women are seen as incapable at Lehigh.
Lehigh’s Society of Women Engineers is a club devoted to offering empowerment opportunities to women in the engineering field. SWE is a national organization with groups located at universities throughout the country. Sharon Kalafut has been the adviser for SWE at Lehigh since 2003.
The club offers its members numerous opportunities, from career advice to internships and jobs.
SWE also runs two outreach programs — options and choices, Charting Horizons and Opportunities in Careers in Engineering and Science. These programs focus on exposing middle school and high school girls to different engineering disciplines.
Santagelo is responsible for planning and organizing the options program, which gives high school girls in the community a chance to spend a day at Lehigh to learn about engineering careers. Santagelo hopes to increase the number of attendees from 30 to 50 individuals to expose more individuals to the engineering community.
Kira Gobes, ’18, has been a member of SWE since she was a first year and is the co-chair of the choices program. The outreach program is held every spring semester in April and works to reach about 80 to 100 middle school girls.
“We have them come in for a full day on a Friday and get them excited about engineering through experiments in different fields of engineering,” Gobes said. “For chemical engineering, we do a liquid nitrogen ice cream demonstration where they get to participate, we do an egg drop for mechanical engineering and things like that.”
SWE’s main goal is to get young girls excited about engineering and to introduce them to the different careers in the field.
For both Santagelo and Gobes, the best part of offering these programs is the ability to show young women the opportunities for women in the engineering field.