>Sheri D. Sheppard*
*>Gender and Engineering*
>Sheri Sheppard has been at Stanford University in the Design Division of Mechanical Engineering
>since 1986. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design related classes, she
>conducts experimental and analytical research on weld fatigue and impact failures, fracture
>mechanics, and applied finite element analysis.  Last year Professor Sheppard participated in
>a forum organized by Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender in response to
>remarks by Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers suggesting that gender played
>a role in women succeeding in science.
>Sheri will describe her experience at the forum and her thoughts on why while representation
>in the scientific world is increasing slightly for women, they still only hold 9 percent of jobs in
>engineering. At Stanford, women make up 23 percent of the faculty as a whole, but only 15
>percent of the faculty in science and engineering. In addition, Sheri is co-Principal Investigator
>with Professor Larry Leifer on a multi-university NSF project for reforming undergraduate
>engineering curriculum, and is involved with several projects focused on increasing the
>presentation of underrepresented groups in the engineering workforce.
Dr. Sheppard began by explaining that only about 1% of the American population lists itself as Engineers of one kind or another. Of those, only about 9% are women, making them a rare breed among a rare breed. In her own case, that meant being the only woman among the 36 faculty in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University for many years.

She explained that among bachelors degrees, Engineering is one that is most likely to lead to a job with good pay. Among engineers, women are not the only under-represented minority. Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are also under-represented. The only group that is over-represented (relative to their representation in the general population) is Asians, who are about 4% of the general population and 11% of the Engineering workforce. Engineers are respected enough that almost every parent would be proud to let their children join the profession, even though engineers are generally not considered creative.

Women engineering students are underrepresented among college freshmen, but not as much as they are among engineering college graduates. Studies show that the reason is not a question of ability, because the woman who leave engineering are of higher grade point averages than even many of the guys that stick it out and get an engineering degree. Partly it is social factors like teachers singling them out or being the only female in a classroom situation. Many express a desire to "work with people instead of machines." Professor Sheppard thinks that reshaping the way the profession is percieved, if not practiced, can change some of this.

One area where a lot of work is going on in this regard is robot competitions. Teams of High School students are being offered the opportunity to engineer their own robots to compete at the local and regional level. Not many women participate, but more do when they are  urged to think of the team as a community they can move forward. Also, when they enter as all female teams, more of them get something out of the experience.

Another area is college admissions criteria. It turns out that most engineering programs are so regimented that students have to decide to be engineers by the age of 17 to complete a BS in four years. By reframing the list of prequisites, it is possible to broaden the appeal of the field to people that hadn't taken advanced math or computer programming in high school, but were willing to take it as freshmen.

Tian Harter