Mechanical Engineering Succeeds with Women Recruits

Engineers design better products when they understand the market using their designs, so the Mechanical Engineering Department is intensely recruiting both halves of the market.

Women Recruits

The Mechanical Engineering Department has set a goal of 25 percent female enrollment by 2015.

Engineers today work in a diverse society. Studies show that they'll do a better job if they understand the segments of that society for whom they design products, says Joe Beaman, chair of the Cockrell School Mechanical Engineering Department. That's one reason a diverse student body matters.

Women, though, have traditionally not been well-represented in mechanical engineering. Two years ago, the Mechanical Engineering Department included about 15 percent female students and, while that was better than the national average of 11 percent, it wasn't good enough. The department’s advisory council set a goal of a 25 to 30 percent female enrollment within five years.

“If we can get to that level, female students won't feel as much of a minority," says Tricia Berry, director of the Cockrell School's Women in Engineering Program.  "At that level, they would feel more a part of the community, and it would become easier to recruit and retain women."

The department and the Women in Engineering Program worked together, sending letters to qualified female students, and following up with phone calls. "We reinforced the concept of asking them to come," says Beaman.  Female students were also considered for $2,000 scholarships when they met certain criteria. The efforts quickly produced results; enrollment of the entering class jumped to 23 percent last fall.

"Pairing both the calling and the scholarship together worked," Beaman says. "I think it's nice to know you're wanted, and the whole package was communicating that we wanted them."

Students who accepted the scholarship were given priority to join a first-year interest group, up to 20 students who develop community by taking two to four classes together, and attending a weekly seminar facilitated by a peer mentor and staff member where they discuss study and time management strategies; social opportunities and issues; and campus life and involvement opportunities.  The groups have proven to help with retention university-wide. "Once you have them, you want to keep them," he adds.

The school is committed to the same efforts for the next two academic years, and Berry says the fall 2010 class is already on track to enroll about 25 percent women. 

"The biggest challenge that first year was coming up with a plan to reach pre-college students," Berry says. "The department put its money where its mouth is, including funding a women in mechanical engineering brochure that used new language to describe the field and department, to present it in a more engaging and accessible light. It's been very exciting." 

Mechanical engineers design a lot of products, Beaman points out. Women represent half the market for those products, and if they participate in the design, the outcome will be better.

"You're also throwing away half the talent if women aren't coming into mechanical engineering."

Make a investment in scholarship support for female students - your gift today will change the future face of engineering.