Converse College and Clemson University announced today a partnership for an engineering dual degree program. The program is a response to the staggering gender imbalance in the engineering profession. According to the National Science Board, women comprise only 10.6% of the engineering workforce in the U.S.
Clemson’s College of Engineering and Science and Converse share a common goal of increasing the number of women who enter science fields. Students will earn two degrees upon completion of the program: a bachelor of science from Converse and a bachelor of science from Clemson in one of their nine engineering disciplines (bioengineering, biosystems, chemical, ceramic and materials, civil, computer, electrical, industrial and mechanical). Participants will complete studies in one of Converse’s science and math programs for three years (a minimum of 90 credit hours), then relocate to Clemson to complete the additional credits (approximately 60) required for an engineering degree.
“Increasing female representation in engineering at the professional level as well as the collegiate level has long been one of our goals and is the chief reason why this partnership with Converse is important to us,” said Dr. Stephen Melsheimer, associate dean of Clemson’s undergraduate studies in the College of Engineering and Science. “At Clemson, the percentage of women in engineering tracks very closely with the national figures (17.2% in Fall 2006), but this is well below what we would like to see. Beyond that, I’ve seen many Converse graduates come through our program in the past and they have always distinguished themselves as coming from a very good college with solid academics. We need more such outstanding students, regardless of gender.”
Dr. Elizabeth A. Fleming, president of Converse College, said that increasing the pool of women engineers advances business, innovation and solution design due to the fact that women utilize different perspectives and methods. “Engineers are by their nature problem solvers. In today’s world, we need now more than ever before individuals with the ability to think critically and creatively, the capacity to collaborate and communicate, sensitivity for the problems of others and a strong sense of ethical principles. Because women tend to have strong aptitudes in these areas, Converse has taken a number of steps to encourage women to explore and pursue careers in the sciences. In addition to our engineering partnership with Clemson, Converse has obtained funding from the Petrie Foundation in New York to provide scholarships to students who plan to major in math or science. Scholarship recipients will serve as mentors and tutors for girls studying science in local high schools. Converse is offering a new residential forensic science camp for high school students this summer. The college also recently collaborated with Spartanburg County Public Libraries to present a forensics workshop for middle school students and gave the library a ten-book series on Women’s Adventures in Science targeted to young girls. Converse’s strategy involves building a pipeline and support system for women in science-oriented careers.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s latest figures show women received only 18 percent of the 78,000 engineering degrees awarded by the nations’ colleges and universities. Not only are women less likely to pursue engineering disciplines, but those who do are more likely to leave them in favor of non-engineering majors.
Reasons for the lack of women in engineering classrooms throughout the country vary.