September 2014

Current Views

By Barry Sullivan, Program Director, ECEDHA


Welcome Back

The ECE Source returns from its summer hiatus, just as students arrive on campus for the fall term.  I initially had a summer vacation theme in mind for my back-to-school column.  I even found a whimsical article on idyllic travel destinations for engineers, but a more serious topic captured my attention.  As I browsed the list of news articles I had earmarked since the last issue of the ECE Source appeared, I noticed that a number of them addressed the challenges in growing the numbers of women in STEM fields.

The series of articles spanned several weeks, beginning with an item that appeared just as the spring term was ending at most schools.  It concerned the release of employment figures at Google, revealing low proportions of women and minorities.  According to the article, the employment profile at Google reflects the tech industry in general.  It was followed a few weeks later by a report on why many women who start out in engineering choose to leave

It’s not hard to find articles on this topic.  I came across a couple more while I was writing this piece, one citing a study that found a less than welcoming workplace culture for women in information technology.  Another listed the failure to draw women and minorities into STEM fields among the concerns voiced by technology industry executives speaking at a summit to promote innovation.

Old patterns change slowly, it seems.  I grew up with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, but women were still a rarity in mid-70s era engineering classrooms.  At my first job as an engineer, a female colleague not much older than me told of majoring in mathematics instead of engineering because women were not admitted to the engineering school at her state’s university.

Thankfully, I also found articles that reported some positive news in this area.  Back in July, the New York Times reported on how several schools have successfully reversed a trend of fewer women majoring in computer science.  More recently, a story appeared on a grant the University of Houston received from the National Science Foundation to increase the number of female faculty in STEM disciplines.

Meeting the need for a sufficient number of new electrical and computer engineer to sustain an increasingly technology-dependent society is a common goal among ECE educators.  Attracting and retaining more women and under-represented minorities helps strengthen the ECE pipeline while opening doors to rewarding careers for these students.  As you welcome back returning students and greet a new first-year class, here’s wishing you success with an ever more diverse ECE student body.


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