By Daniel Krut
Women are doing it in all engineering areas.
This was one of the findings of "Academic Choices of Engineering Undergraduates," an award-winning study conducted by an interdisciplinary team of University of Calgary researchers. Professor of Geomatic Engineering Dr. Elizabeth Cannon and Professors of Sociology Dr. Jean Wallace and Dr. Valerie Haines produced the study, which surveyed 1,000 engineering students from all departments and levels of study. The study showed that women are represented in all engineering disciplines, but that there are specific areas where women are a definite minority.
"Only 15 per cent of computer science majors are women while females constitute 40 per cent of the majors in Chemical Engineering," said Cannon. "Physics is another area where women are underrep-resented."
The study found parents with a background in engineering have an enormous influence over the choices of academic education. "34 per cent of female engineering students have a father as an engineer, while 24 per cent of males have a father as an engineer," said Cannon.
"Of those 34 per cent of females, 50 per cent reported that their fathers were a positive influence in their decision to enroll in engineering. Fathers have a huge sway over career choices for women."
"Research in engineering is different from science or social science and we [social scientists] can analyze and interpret data," added Haines.
The team wants to stop some of the leaks in the educational system that draw very few engineering graduates to the higher educational levels.
"Most engineering programs train people for a career right out of the undergraduate level, where as the sciences promote graduate and doctoral work," said Haines. "We would like to look at the ‘leaky pipeline’ of engineering graduate work."
The interdisciplinary team atmosphere worked well together because each member brought specific qualities that enhanced the quality of the research.
"Research has to be done that is of high quality and defendable and social scientists have that perspective," said Cannon.The team travels to Washington, D.C. on April 23 to receive the 2001 Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network Betty Vetter Award for Research. WEPAN is a non-profit professional and advocacy group established in 1990 to enhance the success of women in the engineering profession.
The results of the study can be found from the Chair for Women in Science and Engineering at http://www.geomatics.ucalgary.ca/cwse/.