“Why the nation needs more female engineers”

Posted on 05/03/2012

TheWashingtonPost

Why the nation needs more female engineers

Here is a guest post from Stephanie Hill, president of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions-Civil division.


Stephanie Hill (Mike Rote/Lockheed Martin Corp.) “Are you sure you want to be a software engineer? You are such a people person. Won’t you be stuck working alone, staring at a computer for hours on end?”

Those were the questions that my sister asked as I declared my intent to pursue a software engineering degree at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). She was right – I am a people person. In fact, in high school I intended to pursue a career in psychiatry. But a college elective course – in COBOL programming – peaked my interest like nothing before. And with wonderful mentors who provided me a glimpse into various career opportunities, I shifted gears, full speed ahead into the world of engineering. I have not looked back since.

As an African-American, female engineer, I’m certainly in the minority. New statistics released this month by theCongressional Joint Economic Committee note that while women now comprise a growing share of the college-educated workforce, only 14 percent of engineers are women, as are just 27 percent of individuals working in computer science and math positions. There is a similar under-representation of Hispanic and black non-Hispanic workers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering math) workforce. Each of these groups accounts for only 6 percent of STEM workers. Overall, the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM fields peaked at 24 percent in 1985; by 2009, the share had fallen to 18 percent.

At the same time we are producing fewer engineers, the need for this profession has never been greater. Think of the many challenges facing our nation that engineers – yes, engineers – grapple with every day: from protecting our national security from cybersecurity threats to our energy utilities and financial markets, to finding new energy solutions to decrease our independence on fuel, to supporting the FBI and law enforcement in decreasing terrorist threats with cutting-edge identification tools. With the pending retirement of many of our hardest-working baby boomer engineers, it’s up to the next generation workforce to step up and take on these exciting careers in engineering, and it’s up to the seasoned generation of engineers to drive excitement in this next generation workforce.

The Role of Industry

A recent Washington Post column by Kristin Tichenor of Worcester Polytechnic Institute discussed the many reasons why young women shy away from engineering as a career, including a lack of female engineering role models, having little knowledge of the solution-oriented work of engineers, and misconceptions about engineering being a “solitary” profession.

Many school systems across the nation are doing incredible work exposing students to engineering. For example, in D.C., Cardozo High School’s TransTech Academy now includes a pre-engineering curriculum.

But schools cannot go it alone. Industry must step up its role in attracting young women to this exciting career where they can truly make a difference in people’s daily lives.

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