More women enroll in U engineering programs

Female enrollment in CSE now makes up about 21 percent of students.

by Jeff Hargarten

Alyson Borrell spends her free time building Lego houses and doing silly putty engineering experiments with young girls. For Borrell, co-president of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Society of Women Engineers, the regular outings to local schools and businesses are a recruiting tool.

âÄúWe want to show girls weâÄôre all not really nerds,âÄù she said.

Borrell is a representative of a growing demographic at the University âÄî female engineering students. This year, 1,666 women are enrolled at the College of Science and Engineering, an increase of about 4 percent from the previous year.

Female enrollment within University engineering programs is the highest itâÄôs been in a decade, said John Kellogg with the UniversityâÄôs Office of Institutional Research.

Women now make up about 21 percent of CSE, according to the UniversityâÄôs enrollment data released last week.

The school has actively pursued higher female enrollment, said Dorothy Cheng, CSEâÄôs outreach coordinator. Every summer, the school runs a camp for girls from kindergarten through high school-age to showcase a wide spectrum of engineering subjects they could study.

Girls find the camps appealing because they are surrounded by other women, whom they find encouraging, Cheng said. The college has also been reaching out to elementary school-age girls interested in chemistry

Borrell and SWE attempt to do the same.

âÄúWe try to make science fun and exciting for younger girls,âÄù she said, adding it was very important for potential women engineers to have positive role models.

SWE started in 1950 to unite women engineers across the country, Borrell said. The organization has chapters at most major colleges and universities as well as a professional branch. Members who graduate have the option to become a professional member.

Borrell said she has not experienced any difficulties being a woman in a male-dominated school. She said SWE creates a sense of community for women in a field where they are a minority, and also provide mentoring and academic help.

The University recently announced plans to accept 100 more students per year to science and engineering programs to meet market demands and higher student applications. BorrellâÄôs hope is that the increase will be another boost to female CSE enrollment and plans to continue working on promoting the school to potential students.

 âÄúHopefully, we can be inspirational role models,âÄù she said.