17 June 2008

Video - More female engineering undergrads

Hi -

Undergrad engineering courses are notoriously male-dominated. Folks have offered a number of theories for why this occurs, and there are several organizations that are trying to increase the participation of women in the engineering disciplines.

I am curious of what you female readers think of a new approach to sharing the excitement and "non-geekiness" of engineering by women. "The Nerd Girls" - a group of Tufts University engineering majors - has produced a video (and website, and Facebook / MySpace groups) to break the stereotypes. (See below)

From one Newsweek article, "...Which may be one reason that many of these tech-friendly women are working their pumps so hard. They're trying to break down stereotypes by being as proud of their sexuality as they are of their geekiness. "Just because I get dressed up Saturday night, that doesn't mean I won't do better [than a guy] on a test on Monday," says Nerd Girl Sanchez. Turning geek into chic isn't always easy. It took Google's Spertus, who is 39, years before she could proclaim herself girl and geek in the same breath. But it happened when she won the award for "Sexiest Geek Alive," a now annual pageant that began in 2000 as a spoof of People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive." Spertus beat out the men in her competition, and at her crowning, she paraded onstage in a corset made out of a circuit board and a high-slit skirt with a slide rule strapped to her leg. Still, some women worry that being too sexy could hurt them"

Have they found a good formula? I don't have a position on this approach other than an open mind - I'm just curious if you think that high school girls will click with this message. If so, great! If not, what's an alternative method?

-g, wondering what Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace would say


Anonymous said...

Ada Lovelace would probably have some doubts, don't you think? It's not like she got on so very well with her father.

I've got mixed feelings. It seems to me that the way to have more female engineers is to change the culture of engineering departments. The studies I've read suggest that a lot of female engineering majors either 1) quit the major following systematic harassment by faculty and fellow students or 2) start the career track and then drop out when they find that 80-hour work-weeks make it almost impossible to have children. Of course I have no personal experience whatever in the matter. But I think more girls would go into engineering if engineering were friendlier to them, and videos indicating that engineer chicks can be just as sexually objectified as those of us in the humanities don't necessarily count as friendly...

..but at the same time I give them props for trying.

sheryl k said...

Yuck. I think it's a terrible idea. Unless you are a porn star, sexuality shouldn't have to do with your career. Women just need to keep working hard at what they want to do. The more attention that is drawn to the uniqueness of things like this, the harder it gets, not easier.

Dan said...

I think it's a sad, in a way, that we're reduced to sexualizing even this - science and engineering education.

In my opinion, by the time you've reached college, it's too late to start trying to recast science/engineering as sexy/cool/normal. Those opinions are typically formed (again, in my opinion) at a much earlier age, usually by bad experiences with boring/ineffective/just plain wrong science education through elementary and secondary school.

I wish I had a better way to encourage young women to enter into the discipline (the latest numbers from COE are that 82% of the incoming class of 2013 are male). And chemical engineering, for whatever reason, does way better proportionately attracting women to the profession that some of the others. Our faculty is replete with strong successful female role models (I believe we have the highest percentage of female faculty of any chemical engineering department in the nation - 56%)

While I can see what they are trying to do with this campaign, I think that they need to be focusing efforts much, much earlier in the educational process. Math and science need to be overhauled much much earlier - college is not where we are losing these kids (male and female alike). The students that I get in class are woefully underprepared in basic math and science, and I see it get a little worse each year, to the point that the department is instituting its own math course to try and plug the holes in the students' knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it seems sad that the makers of the video feel they have to sexualize these girls in order to make engineering "appealing" to teen girls. Does it give the message that women have to be perfect in all ways? That we have to be both smart AND sexy now...
Beyond that, it does have a very slick look to it. It might show some teen girls that you don't have to give up style to go into engineering, BUT being an female academic in a science field I know the crushing sexism I have experienced on a daily basis [in the 21st century... ARG!!] and have heard worse stories from my counterparts in engineering. So, I think the overall culture has to change before it can filter down to the K-12 and undergrad levels.

I hope it will someday change...

Sandro Magi said...

I graduated from electrical engineering, and I didn't witness any sexism myself. The only complaints I heard from the women were the same ones everyone had, about deadlines, hard work, etc. As far as I could see, all the students treated each other the same, so I suppose any sexism would have come from the staff somehow?

Can someone given me an example of the sexism they experienced in engineering? I've heard a couple stories of racism (not the kind you'd think!), but not sexism.

Regarding the video, I don't think it sexualized anything. It just showed a few women who enjoy engineering. Is it any wonder that they put on makeup and dressed up a bit to shoot a promotional video which was going to be circulated around the Internet? Wouldn't anyone?