In electrical and computer engineering (ECE) programs across the United States, women make up only 15% of undergraduates. The lack of gender diversity has academic administrators scrambling to find ways to attract and retain female students. In addition to ECE department leaders, alumni and corporations are increasingly concerned about maintaining a diverse pool of talent in engineering fields, particularly ECE, and are wondering how they can help.
Shige Honjo (EE ‘91), Georgia Tech ECE advisory board member and co-founder of Nest, has taken a proactive approach by meeting with members of Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering (WECE) and providing direct support and mentorship on a number of initiatives.
“I see firsthand that diverse work groups excel at execution and are greatly successful. We need to continue to encourage women to consider engineering and once they are here, to mentor them and teach them what we know. With more women in engineering we can provide greater impact to our society and world,” said Honjo.
Unfortunately, female students still meet with gender stereotypes and are often pigeonholed by the most well-meaning sources.
Shige and his wife Amy, also a Nest co-founder and Scheller College alumna (MBA ’04), were profoundly affected by the story of a family friend’s daughter, Ruthie. Despite Ruthie’s interest in technology and her exceptional grades in math and science, her high school guidance counselor dissuaded her from studying engineering in college, explaining that as a woman, she would enjoy studying English Literature far more.
Amy introduced Ruthie to a group of female engineers in Silicon Valley—each one practicing a different engineering specialty. She was exposed to the variety of engineering careers available and met inspiring role models. While touring their labs, she saw their passion for building products and problem solving.
“Today, Ruthie is busily, happily, passionately studying mechanical engineering,” said Amy. “I believe diversity is very important to building strong, creative teams. Having more diversity, more women in engineering, will ultimately result in better products that better represent the needs of all of society.”
Support and Outreach at the School Level
Leyla Conrad, ECE’s outreach director and faculty mentor to WECE, is proud that the School’s undergraduate student body is 25% female. Still, she acknowledges that there is much more work to be done. “As one of the largest engineering colleges in the country, Georgia Tech has to do its part in leading a transformation in the makeup of our student body,” said Conrad.
WECE was founded in 2004 as a community where women could seek friendship, support, and advice regarding their academic, professional, and personal lives. The group hosts weekly meetings that feature guest speakers from industry and academia. They also organize fun social activities and outreach events designed to introduce school-age girls to engineering.
Besides the critical function of providing support for currently enrolled students, WECE also plays a role in encouraging prospective female students who have applied to the undergraduate program. WECE officers call each female admitted to Georgia Tech ECE providing a personal connection, answering questions, and helping them determine if Georgia Tech is the right fit for them. Members say that many times they’ve seen women decide to come to Georgia Tech because of these personal phone calls.
Another way the School encourages women to enroll is by offering Outstanding Women Scholarships.
“Offering a woman financial support for furthering her education within STEM means more than just its monetary value. Due to the large percentage of WECE members who mention having or had imposter syndrome, a scholarship shows that the ECE department believes in that woman’s abilities to do great things within our community even when she may doubt herself,” said computer engineering major and current WECE president, Maya Kelly.
Ideally, every single woman who is admitted early to the ECE undergraduate program would be offered a scholarship. Right now, only a handful of scholarships are available to the more than 70 students who qualify.
With concrete action items for supporting WECE and the work that they do, the School hopes to continue to enroll a higher percentage of women and shrink the gender gap in its undergraduate program.
If you would like to get involved with WECE, see the list below of ways to support the organization and contact the ECE Development Office.
Five ways individuals and corporations can help support WECE at Georgia Tech:
- One-on-one mentorship of a WECE student.
- Provide connections for outreach opportunities in local K-12 schools, summer camps, and clubs.
- Be a guest speaker at a WECE meeting. Topics could include career opportunities, registration advice, or “what I wish I knew as a freshman.” The club also hosts an annual Women in Technology Luncheon and a Women in Academia Panel.
- Club or student sponsorship that can go toward operating costs, outreach activities, social events, and conference attendance.
- Donate to the Outstanding Women Scholarship Fund.
Last revised October 9, 2020