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Women remain minority at Thayer

Feb 07, 2012   |   by Tom Owen   |   The Dartmouth

Although Dartmouth’s engineering program stands out for its relatively high number of female engineering students, students interviewed by The Dartmouth said the Thayer School of Engineering should do more to reach out to incoming female students who may be unsure of their academic interests.

Nationally, less than 20 percent of engineering degrees are awarded to women, but approximately 33 percent of Dartmouth’s engineering students are female, according to Thayer’s assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Carrie Fraser ’87. The relatively high number of female engineering students is representative of the uniquely welcoming culture at Thayer, Fraser said.

“There’s a sense of community here,” Fraser said. “We actively encourage teamwork on studying and projects, and the willingness of faculty and students to help out makes a lot of women feel like they can hold their own in this environment.”

Current engineering students agreed with Fraser, including Noam Rosenthal ’13, who plans on completing the five-year Bachelor of Engineering degree with a major in bioengineering.

“People who are in engineering are the most helpful people at this school,” Rosenthal said. “I’ll sometimes have to call people at 2 a.m. for problem set help, and somebody is always able to help me out.”

Students and faculty members also suggested that Thayer’s interdisciplinary approach to its engineering programs, based in the liberal arts, is more appealing to women than a typical course of study. Since undergraduates majoring in engineering still have to complete distributive requirements and can combine their major with other fields, Thayer’s program is vastly different from those at most universities, which solely emphasize engineering.

“It’s structured so that you can do other things,” Stephanie Wolf ’12 said. “I don’t think I would’ve gone into engineering at any other college, because here you don’t just apply to engineering school, which is what my brother had to do at University of Michigan.” Fraser also lauded the Women in Science Project and the Society of Women Engineers as two contributing factors to the high number of female engineering students at the College. WISP awards grants for research internships to female students, and SWE offers support and role models for female engineering students. This year, 28 percent of WISP interns are conducting research with engineering professors, which Fraser described as significant because female engineering students are a relatively small percentage of female science students in general. Despite these significant efforts, students said the environment for female engineers at Dartmouth could improve. One common complaint of female engineering students at Thayer is the lack of faculty efforts to actively recruit women to study engineering.

“There’s not enough encouragement right off the bat,” Chloe Ruiz-Funes ’13 said. “Nobody sits [freshmen women] down and says, ‘If you’re interested in this, here’s what you should do.’ For a girl who’s not like me, who doesn’t know what they want from the beginning, there needs to be more encouragement.”

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