On college campuses across the country, even the best programs struggle with attracting and retaining female engineering students. Often times, fields of study like civil or electrical engineering are overlooked by young women looking to choose a satisfying career path. While such decisions occur for a number of reasons, a major contributing factor is likely that due to the nature of our education system, young women are often not granted the opportunity to envisions themselves as engineers during their formative years. Perhaps, if young women were granted the opportunity to learn from successful female engineers before their pursuit of post-secondary education, it would inspire them to explore the satisfying career options that the STEM world can provide. In my own personal experience, I feel that such a solution would have greatly eased my decision-making process, as I simply couldn’t envision myself as an engineer until my loved ones pointed out my natural aptitude for math, science, and problem solving. I was lucky enough to discover all of the amazing opportunities that a career in engineering can offer, and it is my hope that thoughtful reforms to how STEM is approached in schools could afford more young women the same opportunity.
If the representation of women within STEM is going to increase, it is my belief that such efforts should start at the industry level through educational outreach. While the current engineering workforce is immensely talented and responsible for some of the greatest advancements of our time, it is also aging rapidly. If companies want to increase their pipelines of young engineering talent to fill this void, it would be astute of them to focus on developing engaging educational outreach programs at the middle and high school levels. While many companies do pursue some form of outreach, few tailor their outreach programs with the recruitment of young females in mind. Additionally, what if companies were to supplement female-specific outreach programs with an opportunity for participating in a meaningful mentoring program? Outreach can certainly be effective, but allowing young women to form professional relationships with their counterparts already working in industry could allow for the type of opportunities that could assist in helping to mend STEM’s endemic lack of young female talent.
Perhaps committees of female engineers could be formed in cooperation with notable STEM-based companies to recruit female engineers through mentorship programs at local high schools. In their mentoring role, these female engineers could help to serve as a guide for young women looking to apply to colleges and internships, in addition to helping them gain a better understanding of just what engineering entails. Admittedly, there could be some challenges with such a program, such as not gaining sufficient interest from high school students. However, through the forging of mentor-mentee relationships, it is very likely that young women reached by such a program would gain invaluable insights as they continue to seek a fulfilling profession in the field of engineering.