ECE Female Enrollment Rises for Third Straight Year

Atlanta, GA

During the last couple of weeks, discussions about diversity in the engineering field and academia have been spurred on by two articles that have appeared in publications devoted to higher education. “We Look Like Professors Too” ran in the August 10 issue of Inside Higher Ed, and “#ILookLikeAnEngineer challenges stereotypes” ran in the August 4 edition of USA Today and also appeared in the August 4 issue of ASEE First Bell.

The Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) is committed to increasing the diversity and the quality of the ECE student body. Overall, undergraduate and graduate student enrollments continue to rise, and females comprise 21% of the incoming freshman class – its highest mark ever. This is the third consecutive year that women have made up at least 20% of ECE first year students, while the School’s overall female enrollment also continues to grow. During the last five years, overall undergraduate enrollment has grown from 1,207 to 1,473, while the percentage of undergraduate women enrolled increased from 9% to 15%. Accordingly, overall graduate enrollment has grown from 1,170 to 1,359, while the percentage of graduate women enrolled increased from 14% to 16%.

In recent years, ECE has increased its recruiting efforts with the help of two student groups, the ECE Ambassadors and Women in ECE (WECE), to provide more personal interactions with prospective students. According to Bonnie Ferri, ECE associate chair for undergraduate affairs, between 200-300 prospective students tour ECE each year, and the School’s HOT DAYS camp for high school students and the College of Engineering TEC camp for middle school girls provide more in-depth experiences to get students interested in ECE.  

“Our recruiting message has changed in recent years to reflect the change in our program to one that is more flexible and customizable, a feature that is especially attractive to young women,” said Ferri. “With so many electives in ECE and approved electives, it is easier for students to seek minors, study abroad, or specialize in specific areas. A new initiative in ECE that is focused on engineering for social innovation also has a strong appeal for women.”

The STEP-UP Program, a summer research experience for high school teachers, has also played a key role in the School’s outreach efforts to attract both female and underrepresented minority students, according to ECE Outreach Director Leyla Conrad. “We have worked with more than 35 Metro Atlanta high school physics and engineering teachers for the last 10 years,” said Conrad. “After their summer research experience, these teachers bring some of their students to campus to tour ECE research labs during the academic year. Every year, that means more than 300 students get to see and learn about the School and what it has to offer, and up to 1,000-1,500 students hear and learn about ECE from these teachers in their high school classrooms.”

Two female ECE students shared their appreciation for both the rigor of the academics and the variety of experiences that come with attending Georgia Tech and going to college in a city like Atlanta. They also appreciate having a social and networking organization like WECE.

 “I love that I can study abroad, be a sister in Alpha Gamma Delta, play in a band at Under the Couch, serve as a Peer Mentor to autistic students, teach programming to children in the i3 Experience, and work with a supportive group of women through WECE while earning a degree at one of the best universities in the world!” said Bailey Bercik, an electrical engineering major. “I couldn't imagine a better college experience. The possibilities here are endless.”

“WECE attracted my attention because it was a concentration of intelligent, motivated women who sought to expand their own education outside of the classroom and unite other female students in their field,” said Caitlyn Caggia, an electrical engineering major. “The range of opportunities WECE offered, from ice cream socials and ice skating to personalized discussions with top companies, was highly appealing to me as an incoming student looking for guidance.”

Steven W. McLaughlin, Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of ECE, praised WECE; the ECE Ambassadors; and the faculty, staff, students, and area high school teachers who have been involved in the School’s recruiting efforts over the last decade, and he looks forward to continued success.

“The results of these individuals’ hard work is seen through the growing enrollments in ECE, and we will continue to work on increasing our enrollments and further increasing the diversity of our student body while providing excellent academic programs and research experiences,” McLaughlin said. “But perhaps, more importantly, we want everyone who majors in ECE to know that they are welcome here and that we will provide an environment where they will be encouraged to succeed.”

Last revised August 1, 2017