Jean Bossart Neelam Bharti

Abstract

Universities across the United States (U.S.) are perplexed as to why fewer women than men study engineering and why even fewer complete the curriculum and earn an undergraduate degree in engineering. The percentage of undergraduate engineering degrees awarded annually to women in the U.S. since 2000 has remained relatively constant at around 20%. However, some engineering disciplines have had much greater success in graduating women, with some programs awarding 50% or more of their bachelor’s degrees to women. The purpose of this research was to gain a better understanding of why women preferred certain engineering disciplines over others. Up to 17 years of undergraduate engineering department data from the University of Florida (UF) and national averages from the National Science Foundation (NSF) were reviewed to evaluate graduation rates for women in engineering. The total number of graduates at the undergraduate level were compared to the number of undergraduates who identified themselves as women. Linear regression of the data was used to identify trends. In the last 17 years, there has been little change in the overall percentage of women engineering undergraduates, but there is a great disparity between the engineering disciplines. Women earn larger proportions of undergraduate degrees in engineering disciplines where they perceive a societal benefit. How can engineering departments improve their enrollment and retention of women? One way is by providing early-on specific real life examples of how engineers solve society’s most challenging problems.