20 Replies Latest reply: Oct 3, 2013 11:48 AM by Dan Williams RSS

All-female engineering class good or bad idea?

Sandy Everts
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What is your opinion about all-female high school classes for young women to explore engineering?

http://www.jsonline.com/business/kewaskum-high-school-launches-all-female-engineering-class-b99101148z1-224720152.html

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Katherine Wikoff

    I think it's a great idea.  I saw the article in Sunday's paper, and I wondered why a metro-Milwaukee high school hadn't thought of it.

     

    One of my daughters took two PLTW classes in high school where she was one of only two girls.  The classes weren't "sold" to girls, and most of the girls good in math and science dismissed PLTW as something they were not interested in.  My daughter wound up there initially for scheduling reasons, and if the guidance counselor hadn't told her there was one other girl already enrolled, my daughter would have scrounged for something else to take.  Over the course of the year she became friends with the other girl (they were partners on every project), and then the two of them decided to take the second course together.

     

    I'm guessing a girls-only engineering class might tackle subjects and problems of intrinsic interest to girls, which my daughter's PLTW classes did not explicitly set out to do.  I will say, though, that her PLTW teacher was totally open-minded when my daughter and her friend decided to reverse-engineer an eyelash curler--a project unfortunately far more difficult than the assignment called for but at the same time far more interesting to them than what the boys were working on.

     

    One thing about the PLTW classes that surprised my daughter was how "relaxing" the daily classroom atmosphere was due to the project-based curriculum.  She said it felt like being in an art class, which she really enjoyed.  And she would never have guessed engineering could be like that.

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Armund Janto

    If your question relates to the recent effort by Kewaskum HS to expose engineering and technology, I think what they are doing is tremendous.  It is similar to the PLTW initiative, exposure, exposure.  Isolating to female only classes is a little uncomforatble to me, but if that is what it takes to raise interest in young ladies who would not have had the chance, then it is worth a little discomfort. I was the only male in Home Economics class in HS, and my girlfriend was the only female in Shop class, we were both considered weird, but that was a different era, change is inevitable and desirable.  I endorse it at the HS level, but don't think it works at the college level.  You most certainly will still have to work in a coed work place when graduating.

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Tyler Scott

    I had a dual enrollment Intro to Engineering and CAD class (Lawrence Tech) my junior year of high school.  It was co-ed, and a good thing, as some of the best partners for lab projects were females.  They seemed to not have the ego problems many guys have, and also were more willing to dig in and do their part.  Several times their suggestions showed a finesse and "out of the box" thinking, as opposed to a "hammer it into submission" point of view.  Just my observation...

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Charles Tritt

    I think it is a bad idea because world is "co-ed" so a all female class does not prepare male or female students to function in the world they will be living in. The creation of single gender classes appears to be based on the assumption that male and female students can not be taught to work together. Rather than teaching and insisting on the development of good working relationships between males and females, schools are taking the lazy way out and separating the genders. I know there is data showing "better results" in single gender classrooms, but that is exactly my point. There are problems that need to be addressed, but single gender classrooms is exactly the wrong way to address them.

    • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
      Fred Blessinger

      I went to an all-male engineering school (several decades ago now -- they are co-ed now).

       

      There are some advantages to not having the distractions of having the opposite sex in your class, however it really does lead to an "adjustment' period when you get into the real world.  If you used the class as an "intro" to engineering to get girls comfortable with the field I think it would be ok.  However in the end all engineers (male and female) have to work with other engineers, managers, etc who are from both genders.  So I believe that while an all female intro is probably a good idea (at least worth a try), you do not want to create an all-female engineering/STEM program all the way through.  Make the adjustment and learn how to work/interact with both genders early on.  In the long run that will make the student better prepared for the work place and allow them to "hit the ground running" in their career and in the long run make them more successful.

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Sheila Ross

    I think that if a school is seeing lopsided enrollment in STEM, the first thing to do is look inward and find out what messages the teachers and counselors are sending to the students.  In HS, I had signed up for an economics class, and when it did not run due to low enrollment, the counselor suggested a secretarial prep course (we still had paper records and filing in the '90s).  I doubt he would have suggested the same course to a male student.  The first course of action should be to counteract these attitudes held by teachers, counselors, and parents.  I think a single-gender course should be a last resort in a system that cannot otherwise be changed.

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Charlene Yauch

    I think it's a good idea for young women.  There is an intimidation factor that needs to be addressed.  We are not going to be able to easily change the way members of society treat boys and girls (and men and women) differently.  But, we can enroll young women in a gender-specific class and get them interested in engineering?  That's a win in my book.  We can teach them at a later time how the world really works and how to work with men in engineering.  It does not make sense to me to exclude a large number of potential students because the gender-specific class is not realistic enough.  I don't think more recruiting into a mixed-gender class will be as effective.

    • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
      Kathy Faggiani

      I don't disagree with what you're saying, but why is the focus always on teaching women "how the world really works and how to work with men in engineering" rather than teaching all students - including men - the value of diversity and inclusivity in school and the workplace?  There is solid research in design and development that clearly demonstrates the value of diversity and inclusivity in engineering, medicine, education, etc. 

       

      As a university with a mission focused on producing highly productive professionals and leaders, shouldn't we also focus on "how the world would work better" so that future leaders tap new avenues of productivity and achievement?

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Olga Imas

    I think it is not a good idea.  Sorry, Charlene Yauch.  Engineers today work in the multi-disciplinary global teams, comprising of men and women of different cultures, races, backgrounds, education levels, etc.  We need to foster that type of mind-set in our students.  Unfortunately, there are still few women in the engineering management positions, which means women who do make it need to be able to work with men .  So let's teach them that early on. 


    I do agree that it makes sense to organize and run programs and camps for young girls - I do that myself (GE Girls Camp at MSOE program), to get them interested in engineering, science and technology.  But once "we got them," we need to make the environment as realist as possible.

    • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
      Charlene Yauch

      Olga- It seems like you are contradicting yourself somewhat.  Girls-only sessions and programs are OK for young girls to capture their interest?  Isn't that what Kewaskum HS is trying to do?  I'm not advocating girls-only engineering education in college; I think it is important to capture their interest, and if a girls-only opportunity allows that, then we should have more of them.  If this school gets 3 girls interested in engineering with a traditional mixed-gender class, and 17 girls interested with a girls-only class, then I don't think the lack of realism is important for someone who's not yet 18 years old.  These girls will have plenty of time to learn about the real world in the future.  I also don't think one girls-only engineering class is going to somehow damage their ability to work with men in the future.  It could actually strengthen their ability to do so by giving them more self-confidence.

      • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
        Olga Imas

        Sorry, Charlene Yauch, I was not clear.  Personally, I would prefer to get more girls into co-ed engineering/science exploration programs early on, and convince them that engineering is exciting for both, girls and boys, that it is truly gender-independent.  I agree with Sheila Ross that it is the mind-set of many instructors that we need to change, and work on their ability to get the girls interested and confident about their math, science, engineering skills.  I do not believe that it can only be done more successfully in the girls-only classes.   

         

        I do not at all oppose girls-only programs - if that is what the girls feel more comfortable with, then I am happy to do it.  If that is what will likely make them more interested in engineering, then I am definitely happy with it.  But  I have to ask: what is the real goal here?  Is it to 1) to get girls excited about engineering in general; or 2) to get more girls interested in engineering? If we are after the number, then yes, probably, girls-only classes would be better.  Kathy Faggiani made a great point about diversity though and how it enhances learning and productivity, collaboration, etc.

         

        I have to say though that my 8-yr old girl is having a lot of fun with both boys and other girls in their lego robotics club

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Olga Imas

    I personally think that GE Girls Camp at MSOE could be just as successful if it was GE Girls and Boys Camp at MSOE

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Kathy Faggiani

    I've read a great deal of the research on "women only" educational experiences and understand tthat this approach has high rates of effectiveness.  However, I take issue with the idea that this is the best solution for engaging women in STEM fields.  Why treat the symptom rather than the cause?  The real issue is that most STEM curriculum is gender-focused rather than gender-neutral, and much educational delivery suffers from  a gender  (and frequently cultural) bias (again, educational research demonstrates the attention paid to male students by both male and female faculty members).  There is a major opportunity to evolve into curriculum and delivery that has wide appeal across gender, cultures, etc, and in the process teach students and faculty members the value of diversity and inclusiveness - both in the classroom and in the future workplace.

     

    The follow up question I'd like to pose to the campus community - including all administration, staff, faculty, AND students is:

     

    What can YOU do to foster a greater sense of inclusiveness for everyone in your day to day activities?

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Deborah Jackman

    There may be merit in all girl (and all boy) middle and high schools just because there are less distractions for both genders if they aren't mixed together.  Scholastic achievement, on average, at Marquette University High School (all male) and Divine Saviors Holy Angels High School (all female) far exceeds that of most co-ed high schools. (However, that might have other causes such as they are private and can control their admissions to select better qualified students and parents are probably more involved than in many public schools.)  Many educational scholars I have read support single sex education at the middle and high school level.  So, having single sex PLTW and math education in mIddle and high school might have merit.  Kids at that age are emotionally immature and easily influenced by pop culture and peers, so the more we can control for the negative aspects of that the better.  Single sex math education could benefit boys as much as girls if the teachers selected to teach the gender specific classes would play toward the strengths of either gender.  In the case of boys, having class structures that allow for expenditure of energy and playing to the natural competitiveness of boys would make sense..  In the case of girls, having class structures that allow for collaboration and verbal communications-- typically stronger in girls than in boys on average-- could be an advantage..    

     

    However,  I have some very strong feelings that once students get into college, there should be NO effort to have special classes, or groups just for women engineering students.   At some point, after the emotional turbulence of adolescence as passed, young women (and young men) need to be integrated into the real world and that should occur starting in college.  A number of years ago, the ME department got a grant to run an all-women's section of GE 100, based on the idea that we didn't want young women engineering students to have to deal with having male peers in that course, because their performance could be negatively impacted.  The course was immediately labelled the "pink" section of GE 100, and the rest of the campus looked rather disparagingly upon it.  Subsequent evaluations of performance in that section versus in other sections did not show any statistically significant academic advantage.  In short, women who are going to be engineers (which like it or not continues to be a male dominated profession) have to learn to interact productively with their male peers.  Unless they are "mainstreamed" they will not learn to do that.  But, that also supposes that male peers and the companies they work in promote gender neutral policies and that there is a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment.  American industry is getting better, but is still not perfect in this regard.     

     

    Deborah Jackman

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?

    well currently im sitting in my 4th period civil engineering class, and there are 23 guys and 1 girl. The ratio of guys to girls makes it illogical for dedicated classes to be held for each sex. Plus is it fells like just another form of affirmative action and that is unbecoming of a modern society

  • Re: All-female engineering class good or bad idea?
    Dan Williams

    If the intent is remedial and introductory, then I think it is OK.  But in general I think it reinforces the differences between  and separation of genders, which I am guessing is not desired.