Gender equality in engineering on course of improvement

Jacquelyn Sommers, junior in architectural engineering and member of Society of Women Engineers, works the Scholars Assisting Scholars help desk in Fiedler Commons on Dec. 1, 2015. Sommers currently serves as SWE president. (Nathan Jones | The Collegian)

K-State has the largest engineering school in the state with its undergraduate enrollment exceeding over 3,300 students, according to Darren Dawson, dean of the College of Engineering. Some students, however, have said there is an issue of gender equality within the college.

For the 2015 fall semester, the college has 3,666 undergraduates, according to the College’s of Engineering 2015-2016 Fact Book. It also shows that 16 percent of these students are female and 11.2 percent are multicultural. There are currently 292 students studying for their master’s in engineering and 175 students studying for their doctorate In the masters program, only 20.5 percent of students are female, while 26.3 percent in the doctorate program are female.

There are some organizations working to create a more balanced college.

Society of Women Engineers, also known as SWE, is a professional society across the world that supports women throughout their engineering education and career, according to Jacquelyn Sommers, junior in architectural engineering and the society president, said.

Although the society is meant to support women engineers, there are also men involved in the group, Sommers said.

“We have had several men who have been in the SWE and who have even become officers,” Sommers said. “Our current secretary is a man, and he wants to act as a bridge between the men and women of engineering.”

Christopher Tompkins, junior in architectural engineering and SWE secretary, said he feels there is a difference in how men and women are treated in the engineering world, and there are two distinct ways women in the field are treated differently.

“The first is the most prevalent, that women are not as equipped to be engineers as men are, so they are written off as not good enough, which is very sad to me,” Tompkins said. “The second way is similar. However, instead of being written off as not being good enough, women will be treated almost as if they need some extra attention.”

According to Tompkins, treating women as though they need “extra attention” in engineering includes more lenient grading or more individual attention offered. Women and men should not receive varying treatment like this, but instead should be treated as the equals that they are, Tompkins said.

“In my personal experience, it has mainly been women who I have seen come up with the most innovative and creative ideas and solutions to problems,” Tompkins said.

Wongel Abamagel, sophomore in pre-professional architectural engineering and society treasurer, said she feels the unequal treatment of women in engineering has seen improvement over the years with the rise of groups such as SWE.

“I feel like we are seeing less of women being treated differently thanks to organizations like SWE, but we still have a long ways to go,” Abamagel said. “Women positively impact any type of community when we’re put to work. In most cases, we are reliable and relatable, and these characters are crucial in engineering.”

According to Sommers, it is the differences between men and women that allow them to team up to achieve the best of new ideas.

“Diversity in the engineering world has brought new ideas and concepts,” Sommers said. “Men and women are different, and that is a good thing. The way we think and act has allowed engineers to think outside of the box.”

Tompkins said he is confident that the engineering field will continue to change for the sake of equality.

“I firmly believe that we are well on our way to treating women as equals, and that it will most definitely happen,” Tompkins said.