College of Engineering looks to increase number of females in program

Daisy Aguilar

Nineteen-year-old Sacramento State student Yarima Poveda is the only female in her mechanical engineering laboratory class.

Poveda said this is the first time she has been the only female in an engineering class but was not surprised, considering there are never more than five females in a class.

With 2,223 undergraduate males and only 329 females in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the college aims to attract more females to fill the gender gap in the engineering field.

“Our college really is very diverse in every way except for gender,” said Emir Macari, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Women are really underrepresented.”

Although women make up 58 percent of the student population on campus, less than 20 percent are found in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. For every six male student there is less than one female in the College.

Computer science professor Anne Radimsky, who has been teaching at Sac State for 34 years, said the number of women in the college has not increased.

Radimsky said she believes women usually want to pursue careers to help society and may often think engineering is primarily for males.

“One reason why [women] don’t go into engineering is because they don’t feel it is relevant to society,” Radimsky said.

Poveda said she believes women are often misinformed about the engineering field.

“There has to be more involvement from [kindergarten through 12th grade] with teaching girls what engineering is all about,” Poveda said. “They also need to educate parents that it isn’t only for males and their daughter can do it too.”

Civil engineering professor Matthew Salveson said he believes females generally do not pursue an education in engineering because of cultural barriers.

Salveson said women can often be discouraged through their culture to go into a field that may appear too masculine.

“Even without intending to denigrate the qualifications and abilities of a woman, there are certain gender stereotypes on jobs,” Salveson said.

Salveson, said no women have currently applied for the spring master’s program in civil engineering.

Radimsky said foreign countries have a higher rate of women pursuing an education in the field because they might be their only way of becoming independent and reaching success, especially in countries such as India.

“There are more women in graduate school because they’re foreigners,” Radimsky said.

Electrical engineering professor Milica Markovic said when she studied engineering in Serbia, there was a higher number of women engineers.

“In Belgrade, Serbia, there are a lot more women in engineering,” Markovic said. “My mom is an electrical engineer and there were many female role models that I looked up to.”

With the different reasons that may be preventing women from going into engineering, the college is encouraging more women.

Now, the college hosts Shadow Day once a year, where high school female students are invited to Sac State to learn about the engineering field by following female peers in class.

“Obviously what they see is that they walk into the classroom and there’s 30 guys and one or two women,” Macari said. “But this encourages some girls. In fact many of our current students came through Shadow Day.”

Since 2008, the college has also participated in Expanding Your Horizons, a one-day conference in the fall that encourages middle school girls to pursue a major in science, technology, engineering and math.

This semester, the college opened a study center for women engineers.

“[Macari’s] commitment to the mission to increase female retention and enrollment is encouraging to me as a student and an individual,” said civil engineering major Lee Davis, 39.

Davis said the college has provided exceptional support for women.

According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, only 14 percent of engineers and 18 to 20 percent of engineering students are female.

The low number of female engineering students is evident in other California State Universities.

According to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Institutional Research, in 2012, 928 undergraduate students in the College of Engineering were female while 4,079 students were male.

CSU Northridge is also seeing a disparity in women to men enrollment with an almost eight male to one female ratio.

According to the Office of Institutional Research at CSU Northridge, this fall there are 351 females enrolled in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and 2,858 males.

Macari said women engineers are especially needed in the U.S.

“Women and men think very differently,” Macari said. “I want women’s brain power and brain thought to come into engineering because we’re not using half of our talent to create new products and to think about new ideas that men will never be able to figure out because they’re not women.”