I was very honored on Saturday to be inducted into the University of Maine Francis Crowe Society as a Distinguished Engineer. I am an alumni of the University of Maine, I have two sons currently enrolled there, and it is an institution that I love deeply. It was a great privilege for me to be able to address the graduating class. The University of Maine College of Engineering is one of the best land grant engineering schools in the country and I have been involved on the board of advisors to the Department of Spatial Information Sciences and Engineering. This department has a world-class reputation and the team of professors lead by Dr. Mike Worboys is doing some fascinating research.
As inspiring as the ceremony was, I was deeply troubled by how few woman graduates there are receiving engineering degrees. I was in junior high school when Title IX was passed in the US guaranteeing equal opportunity to women in education. Over the next couple of decades there was a lot of time and energy focused on women's rights issues and breaking the 'glass ceiling'. And yet nearly 40 years later we still are seeing a pitifully small representation of women in the engineering disciplines. I was embarrassed for the College of Engineering that there was not a single woman graduate from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The Department of Mechanical Engineering had a single woman graduate. The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department had several woman graduates, but still no where near parity with the men.
On my ride home from Orono yesterday I couldn't get the difficult questions out of my mind. Why is it that so few women consider engineering as a profession that they would find exciting and rewarding? How is it that American society has lost its inspiration and drive to lead the world in engineering excellence. In my mind, America could do with a lot fewer lawyers and bankers and a lot more engineers. How do we turn this tide and convince my daughter's generation that they should consider engineering as a viable career path?
One of the things that Tom Peters is continually ranting about is how America is disastrously myopic in our inability to tap the creative genius of women in our society. This trend is at its absolute worst in the engineering community. Help me out here... how do we change current perceptions and inspire a new generation of women engineers?