Women Engineers on the Rise

The face of engineering at Penn is changing.  In contrast to decades past, women are now arriving here in record numbers, with this year’s entering class comprised of 37 percent women, well above the national average of 20 percent.  Women now hold tenured faculty positions in each department, and, for the first time in Penn Engineering’s history, two of the six departments are chaired by women: Kathleen Stebe, Richer and Elizabeth M. Goodwin Professor of Engineering and Applied Science and Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Susan Davidson, Chair and George A. Weiss Professor of Computer Science.

A powerful presence at Penn Engineering, women hold 14 faculty positions and are represented in the administrative and oversight bodies that govern the school.  But it wasn’t always this way.  The big leap for women at Penn came between 1973 and 1983, when the percentage of enrolled women undergraduates in engineering increased from about 3 percent to 23 percent.  It was during this time that efforts were made by the school to increase women’s interest in engineering as an academic and career path. 

Founded in 2007 by Susan Davidson, then Deputy Dean of Penn Engineering, the Advancing Women in Penn Engineering (AWE) program was funded by an alumna to promote and support undergraduate women in engineering at Penn.  This program not only engages with current undergraduates, but also reaches out to younger women in middle and high schools through a program called PennGEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science).  Other important resources for women in at Penn Engineering are the Society of Women Engineers and Women in Computer Science, both organizations which are open to graduate and undergraduate students. 

It is through programs like these and mentorship across all boundaries that engineering at Penn and elsewhere is benefitting from an increase in numbers of women.  And, as more women become deans, chairs and tenured professors, and the institutional commitments from the president, dean and programs like AWE grow, Penn ensures that the best engineers – men and women alike – will continue to choose to bring their talents and expertise here.

Credit: Penn Engineering Magazine, “Women Engineers on the Rise,” by Barbara Blake.

Interested? Learn more!

Advancing Women in Engineering Program
Society of Women Engineers

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