Diversity in the College of Technology

Written by  //  September 11, 2011  //  Faculty  //  1 Comment

A few days ago a writer from the campus newspaper, The Exponent, contacted me about an article she was going to write related to the number of female students in our degree programs. She sent me the questions by email since my schedule prevented us from meeting face-to-face. I thought that the questions and my answers provided a good overview of diversity especially as it relates to our efforts to increase the number of women students and faculty in the College of Technology. Here are the questions and my responses:

What exactly is the percentage of females in the College of Technology?

I do not have the numbers for this fall as they will not be available until early next week. For fall 2010 the College of Technology had 13.7% undergraduate females enrolled and 27.4% females enrolled in our graduate programs.

Why do you think the numbers are so low?

The programs in the College of Technology are considered a STEM discipline: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. All STEM disciplines struggle to attract female students and it is a national issue that we are trying to address. There are many reasons for the low number of female students in the STEM disciplines ranging from the low interest of females in STEM disciplines starting in K-12 to the geeky perception of many of the fields of study within the STEM disciplines, such as computing. Specifically for the College of Technology we are investigating the root causes for our low numbers but I suspect that it ranges from perceptions related to our degree programs being offered to the climate we create that all contribute to the problem. The low numbers also widely vary depending on the program in Technology with the highest number of female students in the Technology Leadership and Innovation program at the undergraduate level to very high number of female students in Cyber Security & Forensics graduate program with our lowest numbers in our engineering technology programs.

Does the College of Technology have the lowest percentage of females of any colleges?

As of fall 2010 we have the lowest number of female students in our undergraduate program and the 2nd lowest for our graduate program.

Is this a decrease or an increase from the past few years?

Over the last five years the number of female students in our programs have ticked up about 2% for undergraduate female students and about 5% for graduate female students. However, over the last 10 years the numbers have fallen. So over the last five years we have reversed the 10-year trend and will continue with the programs that have been implemented to reverse the trend and will be implementing new programs to accelerate the trend towards more female students enrolling in all our degree programs.

What kinds of programs are you looking to use to increase the percentage of females in the College?

When I started as Dean of the College of Technology on July 1, we set diversity as one of the pillars for change over the next 3 to 5 years. We are still working on the overall strategy as we are still in the middle of analyzing the data related to diversity for the College. However, we already have set a goal to accelerate the growth of female students and underrepresented minority students and faculty in our College. Some of the initiatives we have started include the naming of a Diversity Liaison in each department in the college to facilitate better communication and execution on diversity initiatives between the College’s Diversity Office and the departments. We have a faculty/staff diversity committee led by Professor Alka Harriger that I have worked with on a number of goals and provided a budget to fund diversity related initiatives. I have also asked each department to perform a program review of all our degree programs that will include their diversity metrics and trends over the last five years. Immediately following that review each department will be asked to propose new degree programs or options that will be more attractive to female and underrepresented minority students. We are also going to be working more closely with many of the excellent resources and staff who support diversity initiatives offered by Purdue. In a few months we should have completed our strategy and plans to significantly increase our female and underrepresented minority students and faculty in the College of Technology.

Why feel it is important to have more female students in the College?

That is a very good questions that is not always addressed very well when the topic of diversity is discussed which can result in a diminishing of the importance in our society and its institutions. One of the greatest challenges facing all colleges and universities today involves creating a campus community that reflects the rich diversity of this country. We must recognize both the importance of educating all students to live and work in an increasingly diverse society and the historical exclusion of women and minorities from various academic disciplines and occupations. By not addressing this issue we exacerbate this country’s historic problem and will never realize the significant contributions that can be made by women and minorities to all professions and occupations. A diverse classroom enriches the educational experience by providing students with the opportunity to learn from individuals who differ from themselves. Studies have shown that diverse classrooms promote personal growth by challenging stereotyped preconceptions, encourages critical thinking, and helps students to learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. A diverse classroom also prepares students for living in our society by fostering mutual respect and teamwork. Ultimately this leads to enhancing the country’s economic competitiveness by effectively developing and using the talents of all our citizens. By having a low number of female students in our programs we are depriving our students of the rich educational experience we aspire to.

Is the College looking to have just more female students or more female faculty and staff as well?

We are also working on increasing the number of female and minority faculty and staff in our College. We are working on a strategy and plan that complements our efforts to increase the number of female and minority students.

Are there other Colleges looking to increase their female numbers?

Most if not all the STEM disciplines are looking to increase the number of female students enrolled in their respective programs.

Is there anything else you would like to add or think I should know about?

The College of Technology is committed to increasing the number of female students enrolled in all our degree programs. This is an issue that will take a few years of work in implementation of our strategy before we can make significant progress but I believe we have the dedicated faculty and staff who want to make the changes necessary and have the ideas and initiative to make a difference if we focus our efforts.

The Exponent article can be found here.

One Comment on "Diversity in the College of Technology"

  1. Shweta Chopra September 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm · Reply

    This was a excellent blog. I am really interested in seeing what are the results from my studies are going to be for Bilsland Strategic Initiative proposal.

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