UCSC recognized for high percentage of engineering master's degrees awarded to women

A survey of master's degrees awarded by U.S. engineering schools shows that the University of California, Santa Cruz, ranks third in the percentage of degrees awarded to women. Of the master's degrees awarded by UCSC's Baskin School of Engineering in 2004-05, 44.2 percent went to women.

The survey was reported in the January 2007 issue of ASEE Prism, a magazine published by the American Society for Engineering Education. UCSC was the only UC campus in the top 20 for this category.

"I am delighted by this statistic--it is an impressive number. We have always tried to make our graduate programs welcoming to everybody and to create a supportive environment for all students," said Darrell Long, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Baskin School of Engineering.

The National Science Board and other national groups have raised concerns in recent years about the low representation of women in engineering and related fields. Studies show that fewer women than men choose to pursue degrees in engineering and that women are more likely to drop out of the educational "pipeline" before earning advanced degrees.

"We try to admit the best people, and if there are qualified women we will recruit them aggressively. But attracting women to the engineering disciplines in general has been an issue nationwide," Long said.

The presence of a significant number of women on UCSC's engineering faculty and good support groups for women within the engineering school probably help UCSC to retain female students who might otherwise get discouraged and drop out, said Martine Schlag, a professor of computer engineering and faculty adviser to a graduate student organization called eWomen.

"In many engineering schools, women do feel very isolated. So the support provided by a group like eWomen probably does have an impact on graduation rates," Schlag said.

Laura Chiticariu, copresident of eWomen, said the group organizes a variety of activities, including talks and panel discussions on issues relevant to women in engineering. This quarter, for example, a panel of women faculty in the engineering school will discuss interviewing for jobs after graduate school.

"We try to invite women role models to talk about issues of interest to us," Chiticariu said. "We also have bimonthly lunch meetings and other get-togethers. It's a supportive peer environment."

Richard Hughey, professor and chair of computer engineering, has actively encouraged the establishment of support groups for women in the engineering school. Hughey is a faculty adviser to eWomen and to the UCSC student chapter of the Society for Women Engineers (SWE). One of the founders of eWomen, graduate student Angela Schmid, had been president of the UCSC SWE chapter as an undergraduate (see profile).

"We have been working to build a good community for graduate student women within the engineering school and on the campus in general," Hughey said.

Some of the fields in which the Baskin School of Engineering is especially strong--such as bioinformatics and biomolecular engineering--tend to attract more women than other areas of engineering, Hughey noted. UCSC also has more female faculty members in engineering than most engineering schools that grant Ph.D.s. And the campus's proximity to Silicon Valley is a factor that helps to attract engineering graduate students in general.

"Whatever the reasons may be, these results show that UCSC is a great place for women to be graduate students," Hughey said.