Women in Engineering program strengthens the minority

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WE@BYU works to help women feel confident in the Engineering and Technology field. Photo Courtesy Women in Engineering and Technology

It is not uncommon for a woman in an engineering and technology class to find that she is the only female student in a class.

Women in Engineering at BYU, also known as WE@BYU, is a mentoring program in the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology committed to supporting women in the department by connecting them with each other, providing resources and giving them the confidence to pursue the science and engineering field.

The program coordinators do this by assigning a mentor to each new female student in the department and inviting them to participate in group retreats. At such retreats and activities, the women are sometimes given packets with quotes about women and education like the one from President Gordon B. Hinckley below:

“The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2001 General Conference).

There are about 470 female students in the engineering and technology program, making up about 13 percent of all the students in the department.

“There was a general consensus that marriage kills this major (for women),” said Lisa C. Barrager, program coordinator and assistant to the dean of the College of Engineering and Technology.

However, after diving into the data for about a year, they found that the general consensus was wrong. The biggest obstacle female students face in the department was being in the minority.

“They feel like fish out of water,” Barrager said.

She said it is not uncommon for a class to have only one or two women and that this can be hard for some for those who have never experienced being part of a minority to cope with.

She also said another worry for female students is that they won’t be able to balance life with such a career.

This is a common worry for women in all majors at BYU, and official forums to discuss balancing family and career goals seem to be on the rise. Last year the career development class at BYU opened up a section that specifically covers women’s issues.

Barrager said they don’t want to send a message that women have to work or not, but they do want women to stick with the Engineering and Technology Department if they love it.

“Be ready for opportunities,” Barrager said.

She also said she wants to take the discussion out of the realm of controversy. She noted that you can’t do it all but you can find a life balance.

Terri Bateman, an adjunct faculty for the department involved in WE@BYU, agreed. She said BYU is the perfect place to discuss finding this balance.

Batemen said one of the biggest payoffs for her at WE@BYU is to know that the women had fun and that they got lots of questions answered.

Barrager said new students have a window of opportunity to invest in their education and they should invest in a major they love and see what happens.

WE@BYU has been operating for about five years now, and Barrager said they have seen an increase in the number of women they are able to retain in the department. According to her, their female freshman numbers are similar to the national average.

“We need these differences,” Barrager said. “It is so important to have diversity … studies have shown that the diverse group performs better than the homogenous.”

She also pointed out that while getting through engineering is hard, women in this area of study have the advantage of finding jobs easily, and many end up as leaders.

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