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Women outnumber men in a graduating class of engineers—for the first time ever

Jul 08, 2016   |   by Jaime Gordon   |   USA Today

This year, Dartmouth made history by being the first national research university to award more undergraduate degrees in engineering to women than men.

The class of 2016 at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering was 54% female, according to their website.

It’s notable because it’s a first for Dartmouth, but it also goes way beyond that — overall, women are drastically outnumbered by men in engineering. According to Georgia Tech, nationally, women make up only 17% of undergraduate engineers.

gender infographic
Graphic by Jaime Gordon for USA TODAY College.

Joseph Helble, dean of the Thayer School, said that Dartmouth has experienced consistent growth in its proportion of female engineers over the last 20 years.

“We believe our overall approach to engineering, and engineering education, is what is attracting women to our program,” Helble said. “Our program places a premium on hands-on, project-based learning, from the very first engineering class. And we provide all Dartmouth students the opportunity to take entry-level design classes alongside engineering majors.”

Kelsey Kittelsen, a rising senior in Thayer, agreed with Helble, saying that the project-based curriculum was one of the main reasons she came to Dartmouth’s engineering school. Kittelsen also noted the school’s academic culture as a possible draw factor for many women.

“The whole environment is extremely collaborative, with an emphasis on [cooperation] rather than competition between students,” Kittelsen said. “That’s also a reason it’s such a sought-after program by men and women. It creates a very supportive environment.”

Helble noted that Dartmouth’s strong mentorship programs and the 25-year-old WISP (Women in Science Project) — which focuses on providing one-on-one research opportunities and mentoring to first year students interested in STEM fields — could contribute to Thayer’s desirability.

Stephanie Emenyonu, a member of Thayer’s Class of 2016 and a former WISP participant, said the program solidified her interests in academia and research. Emenyonu also cited the positive influence of the National Society of Black Engineers and Dartmouth’s liberal arts approach to engineering as important parts of her experience in Thayer.

“The engineering program allowed me to explore many fields, then hone into what I really like,” Emenyonu said. “I think that’s one of the strong points that keeps all types of engineers in the program: the ability to explore a little, as opposed to just staying on a rigorous path for four years.”

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