by Rachel Beard
The number of women enrolled in MSU’s College of Engineering reached nearly 21 percent this year, up from 18 percent last year.
This increase is part of an ongoing trend at MSU and other universities of more women showing interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. MSU Women in Engineering Director for Student Success Judy Cordes called this trend “fantastic.”
“It’s a goal we’re striving for to be pushing the numbers up each year, so each year that we set a new number we have a higher number,” Cordes said. “That’s a real positive thing for us, but it’s also a really positive thing for Michigan State, it’s a positive thing for the College of Engineering and it’s a positive thing for industry because industry needs more female engineers.”
MSU Women in Engineering Director of Recruitment and K-12 Outreach Teresa Isela VanderSloot said she has been working to make sure this number keeps increasing.
“We’re partnering with the National Council for Women in IT (National Center for Women & Information Technology), and we have the support from the dean,” VanderSloot said. “There’s a demand for women in engineering, so it’s very intentional.”
Cordes said the trend of increased women in engineering resulted from a combination of things like recruitment and retention.
“We’re seeing an upswing nationally of women who are pursuing engineering degrees, but then also, we’ve increased the types of things that we’re doing to recruit and retain women here at the university in engineering,” Cordes said. “Our whole process is much stronger now in bringing those students here to campus and keeping them in engineering. It’s sort of a combination of the two.”
Computer science freshman Emily Doss said having more women in the college enriches her experience as an engineering student.
“I really like having girls who can kind of relate to the struggle of, oh, there’s 40 people in my class and there’s four girls,” Doss said.
Cordes said she agrees having more diversity in the college helps women in engineering feel more comfortable.
“It’s obviously better because when you see more women in your classrooms, in your project groups, just even around the building it’s a role-modeling thing,” Cordes said. It’s feeling positive because you’re seeing more women. It’s more comfortable just overall.”
Although 21 percent is a record-setting number, Cordes and VanderSloot both agree that the number could be higher.
“When women make up 50 percent of the population and are buying 50 percent of the products but only 20 percent are women engineers, we’re missing out on their ideas at the table that are making the technologies and all that,” VanderSloot said.
As the director of recruitment, VanderSloot is working on outreach programs directed at young girls all around the state of Michigan.
“We host events like our Introduce a Girl to Engineering, so we’re working on the pipeline from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade,” VanderSloot said. “Part of it, in engineering, is people just don’t know what you can do with an engineering degree, so it’s explaining what engineering is about and also dispelling myths that it’s just for men, because engineers are pretty much in every single industry and doing all kinds of things.”
The College of Engineering’s goal is to reach an undergraduate enrollment that is 25 percent female by 2020, and Cordes said she hopes that goal is within reach.
“If we can exceed that goal, that would be great, but that’s our goal at this point,” Cordes said. “And we’re well on the way to that because we’re at 21 percent this year, and we’ve come up several points in the last couple of years. So we’re going to keep working on that.”