Female enrollment in CSE now makes up about 21 percent of students.
Alyson Borrell spends her free time building Lego houses and doing silly putty engineering experiments with young girls. For Borrell, co-president of the University of Minnesota’s Society of Women Engineers, the regular outings to local schools and businesses are a recruiting tool.
“We want to show girls we’re all not really nerds,” she said.
Borrell is a representative of a growing demographic at the University — female engineering students. This year, 1,666 women are enrolled at the College of Science and Engineering, an increase of about 4 percent from the previous year.
Female enrollment within University engineering programs is the highest it’s been in a decade, said John Kellogg with the University’s Office of Institutional Research.
Women now make up about 21 percent of CSE, according to the University’s enrollment data released last week.
The school has actively pursued higher female enrollment, said Dorothy Cheng, CSE’s outreach coordinator. Every summer, the school runs a camp for girls from kindergarten through high school-age to showcase a wide spectrum of engineering subjects they could study.
Girls find the camps appealing because they are surrounded by other women, whom they find encouraging, Cheng said. The college has also been reaching out to elementary school-age girls interested in chemistry. Borrell and SWE attempt to do the same.
“We try to make science fun and exciting for younger girls,” she said, adding it was very important for potential women engineers to have positive role models.
SWE started in 1950 to unite women engineers across the country, Borrell said. The organization has chapters at most major colleges and universities as well as a professional branch. Members who graduate have the option to become a professional member.
Borrell said she has not experienced any difficulties being a woman in a male-dominated school. She said SWE creates a sense of community for women in a field where they are a minority, and also provide mentoring and academic help.
The University recently announced plans to accept 100 more students per year to science and engineering programs to meet market demands and higher student applications. Borrell’s hope is that the increase will be another boost to female CSE enrollment and plans to continue working on promoting the school to potential students.
“Hopefully, we can be inspirational role models,” she said.
By Jeff Hargarten
October 20, 2011