Perspective: Gender Parity
By Dean Joseph J. Helble
Every year on Commencement weekend, Thayer holds an Investiture ceremony to hood our graduating students and recognize their outstanding academic accomplishments. Always a celebratory occasion, this year’s Investiture was particularly noteworthy as we announced the graduation of our largest AB class ever. Of the 117* AB graduates, more than 50 percent were women, representing a major milestone: In an era where less than 20 percent of engineering bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women nationally, this is the first graduating engineering class from a national research university to achieve gender parity. The vast majority of our graduates are also earning their BE, either completed simultaneously in four years, or planning to do so in part or all of a fifth.
Over the past month, our milestone accomplishment and the stories of our students have been noticed, and we have been repeatedly asked how we have achieved gender parity. Our answer, of course, is that it has not been a single initiative or program, but rather many small steps, including the development of a culture that is designed, first and foremost, to expose the broadest and most diverse group of students—male and female—to the beauty of engineering as a way to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.
We have accomplished this by:
- building, over decades, our program that connects engineering at Dartmouth deeply to the liberal arts, helping all students develop not just the technical knowledge to solve technical problems, but a deeper understanding of the world, of the society that engineering needs to serve.
- avoiding engineering silos and giving students flexibility and choice, which we do by exposing students to all engineering disciplines without regard for departmental walls or disciplinary boundaries, encouraging students to see engineering as a collaborative mindset and a collection of tools to solve real-world challenges.
- placing a premium on hands-on, project-based learning—from the very first engineering class—that is often far more appealing than sitting in a lecture hall.
- providing all Dartmouth students the opportunity to take entry-level engineering design classes, such as ENGS 12 or ENGS 21, alongside engineering majors, offering them a way to experience the creative elements of engineering without having to commit to the major.
- building on the success of Dartmouth’s 25-year-old Women in Science Project, developing a First Year Research Experience in Engineering program, encouraging first-year women and men to explore engineering by working directly with a faculty mentor.
- hiring talented faculty and staff who are great teachers, are leaders in their scholarly fields, are also often entrepreneurs, and who engage students in their labs or startups taking on problems in medicine, energy, imaging, communications, information security, robotics, and many other areas.
- building a diverse population of role models for students at all levels, from faculty to staff to review boards to student teaching assistants, and enabling our female students to interact with successful mentors every step of the way.
We are enormously proud of our graduating class, who made history this June. And we look forward to the time when gender parity in engineering is the norm, not the exception.
* At the time of Investiture, the number of expected AB graduates was 119. Final figures released by the registrar in July amended the numbers to 117.
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