Women underrepresented in IT

The University explores options while the number of women in IT declines.

Jeannine Aquino

It’s easy to find electrical engineering senior Sarah Byrd in a class. Usually she’s one of only a handful of women, if not the only woman, sitting in lecture.

This is because only 7 percent of women enrolled in the Institute of Technology decide to study electrical engineering. Even in the more popular programs such as biomedical and chemical engineering, women continue to be underrepresented in the institute.

Peter Hudleston, associate dean for student affairs in the Institute of Technology, said there has been a decline in the number of women entering engineering at the University and throughout the nation.

“The percentage here in (the institute) and nationally was 20 percent five years ago,” Hudleston said. “It’s below that now.”

The Institute of Technology has seen a general decline in the number of women entering the college.

In the span of one academic year, the number of women in the institute has declined from 17 percent in fall 2004 to 15.3 percent this year, Hudleston said.

Byrd, who is taking a class in which she is one of only five women out of 80 students, said she felt a little uncomfortable with the ratio of men and women in the beginning of her studies.

“I felt out of place,” she said about the first class she took in electrical engineering last year. “I felt I had to prove myself to them just because there are so few women.”

Since then, Byrd said, she no longer feels the need to be as competitive.

“I don’t even notice I’m the only girl in the class,” she said. “I just focus on the class.”

Sara Nasiri-Amini, an electrical engineering junior, has gone through a similar experience.

She said it was a weird feeling going into a large lecture class knowing the professor and everyone else in the room would notice her.

“I asked myself why other girls didn’t want to do this,” Nasiri-Amini said. “I thought maybe I’m picking the wrong major because no other girls were here.”

Yet when she got used to the feeling of being part of a minority, she said she realized that she should continue to pursue the major because it’s what she enjoys.

“For myself, I tried not to notice that I have a different gender from most of the other people around here,” she said.

Computer engineering senior Jeremy Spring said he would like to see a more even representation in the majors.

“It would be nice to have more equality,” Spring said.

The Institute of Technology admissions department is working on recruiting more women to the sciences, Hudleston said.

“We hired an individual jointly between admissions and the college whose job it is to recruit women and high-ability students in general,” Hudleston said.

The University also offers an “Exploring Careers in Engineering and Physical Science” program through the Institute of Technology Center for Educational programs. The weeklong program for high school girls will introduce students to science majors at the University.