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Gender Balance in Engineering School

February 11, 2010

When I was applying to engineering school, my main concerns were:

a) the academic program and b) the gender balance a.k.a. the social scene

Having attended an all-girls school since 6th grade, I was not excited about the possibility of going to a school with 10% women or being the only girl in the class. However, I knew I wanted to be an engineer. Or more importantly, I knew that I wanted an engineering degree. I was fascinated by the idea of  thinking like an engineer. I wanted that ability.

Ultimately, my favorite engineering programs were Olin College and Smith College. Olin had the academic program that I wanted and Smith had the learning environment/culture that I wanted. Of course, in the end a lot of other factors (read: money) impacted my decision.

Today at the Town Hall Meeting, we discussed the admissions stats for this year’s Candidate’s Weekend at Olin (when candidates come to campus to be interviewed before acceptance letters are sent out). This year, almost twice as many men were admitted to Candidate’s Weekend than women. This is disconcerting for someone who believes that gender balance is a key asset to the school.

That sent me thinking on what factors may play into women’s decision to come to Olin. In general, it seems that women are less likely to want to go to a strictly engineering school because they aren’t as confident that they want to do engineering. They want the option to switch out of engineering if they change their mind. However, Olin has gender balance, which draws men and women. For women in particular, I think this can be correlated to a higher yield in admissions.

I wish Olin would put a higher value on gender balance, rather than leaving it as this tacked on thing that happens if it does and doesn’t if it doesn’t. I think it’s a major selling point for the school. Already, other schools are implementing the innovation academic programs that we have here at Olin. But our smallness gives us certain advantages – one of which is the ability to have gender balance.

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