Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Why the Nation Needs More Female Engineers


Stephanie Hill, president of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions-Civil division explains Why the nation needs more female engineers:

“Are you sure you want to be a software engineer? You are such a people person. Won’t you be stuck working alone, staring at a computer for hours on end?”

Those were the questions that my sister asked as I declared my intent to pursue a software engineering degree at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). She was right – I am a people person. In fact, in high school I intended to pursue a career in psychiatry. But a college elective course – in COBOL programming – peaked my interest like nothing before. And with wonderful mentors who provided me a glimpse into various career opportunities, I shifted gears, full speed ahead into the world of engineering.  I have not looked back since.  

As an African-American, female engineer, I’m certainly in the minority. New statistics released this month by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee note that while women now comprise a growing share of the college-educated workforce, only 14 percent of engineers are women, as are just 27 percent of individuals working in computer science and math positions.  There is a similar under-representation of Hispanic and black non-Hispanic workers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering math) workforce. Each of these groups accounts for only 6 percent of STEM workers. Overall, the share of bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM fields peaked at 24 percent in 1985; by 2009, the share had fallen to 18 percent.

At the same time we are producing fewer engineers, the need for this profession has never been greater.

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