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Women break barriers in engineering and computer science at some top colleges

Sep 21, 2016   |   by Nick Anderson   |   The Washington Post

Women are making major gains in enrollment in engineering and computer science at some of the nation’s most prominent colleges and universities, a breakthrough that shows that gender parity is possible in technology fields long dominated by men.

More than half of engineering bachelor’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology went to women in 2015, federal data shows. The same was true at Dartmouth this year. The majority of computer science majors at California’s Harvey Mudd College are women. Here at Carnegie Mellon University, women account for nearly half of first-year computer science students — 48 percent, a school record.

These and other examples underscore an evolution in fields vital to the nation’s economy. While men still far outnumber women nationally — 4 to 1 in engineering, 5 to 1 in computer science — female students are gaining ground slowly at many schools and rapidly at others. The shift gained attention last year when women fed up with gender stereotypes posted photographs of themselves on social media with a hashtag that went viral — #ilooklikeanengineer.

The federal government and industry leaders acknowledge that more should be done to bring women into science, technology, engineering and math, known as the STEM fields, and they have pushed programs such as Girls Who Code to boost interest among girls at a young age. Educators caution that many female students continue to face obstacles, including biases from classmates, teachers and others who might cause them to doubt their potential. ...

... Role models matter, too, especially for fields in which male professors far outnumber women. Dartmouth’s engineering dean, Joseph Helble, said the college has sought to diversify its faculty and ensure that engineering students work with as many female teaching assistants and project advisers as possible.

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