A look at majors where women are the minority
Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Updated: Monday, August 9, 2010 14:08
Divya Pillai, a senior in computer science, is used to being one of the only female students in her classes.
In spring 2005, there were only 17 female students majoring in computer science compared with 207 males, according to Utah State University's analysis, assessment and accreditation Web site,
"At first it was kind of intimidating, but now I'm used to it," Pillai said.
There are only about two or three women per 30 students in her computer science classes, she said. She wants to be a computer programmer and said the most challenging part of the computer programming major are the programming assignments that take about 30 hours a week.
"It takes a lot of time if you want to do well," Pillai said
Vicki Allan, an associate professor in computer science at USU, said about 10 percent of all graduates in computer science at USU are female.
"They are some of our very very best students," Allan said.
However, she said she is concerned at the low number of women in computer science - below the national average of about 17 percent female graduates. Allan said women are more than capable of being successful in computer science, bringing up the point that more than half of the math majors at USU are female.
The actual number of full and part-time undergraduates majoring in math as of last spring 2005 is 103 females and 65 males according to the USU Analysis, Assessment and Accreditation Website.
Allan doesn't know why so few women go into computer science, but she speculates that it is because computer science is viewed as "nerdy" or is not as prestigious as other areas of study. When, in reality, she said the job market is good for computer scientists and they are at the top of the pay scale.
Allan also said she thinks more men are drawn to computer science because of their interest in computer and video games.
"Guys in our society hang out in computer labs," Allan said.
Because of this affinity for computers, she said men are sometimes ahead when entering computer science classes and women may feel behind or isolated because they aren't as familiar with things. Allan said that there are many great opportunities for women in computer science and encourages female students to take computer science classes, join the ACM-W and start working with other computer science majors.
Heather Warren, a senior in biological engineering, said she has never really noticed how few women have been in her classes because she usually has class with her friend Dolly Creger, also a senior in biological engineering.
Both Warren and Creger said they feel they get a lot of respect from the guys in their engineering classes and said they feel special because professors and other students notice them and know who they are.
"I have never felt demeaned because I was female; I've actually felt favored," Creger said.
Both women said the hardest part of biological engineering is that it is so time consuming. However, their are ways that women can get involved and perhaps lighten the load of being the minority.
Warren is in charge of publicity for USU's chapter of SWE, Society of Women Engineers, a national organization that encourages women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and supports them in the process.
Warren suggests that female students should join SWE because they will be able to meet other women who are majoring in engineering and form groups of people to study with. It is also a good way to network with possible employers. Warren said this year the SWE regional conference will be held in Salt Lake City and there will be many businesses attending looking for future employees.
"SWE is just a good organization so women can understand what career opportunities they have," Warren said.
"Not all of the activities are about engineering," Warren said, "This month we decorated a tree for the Christmas Tree Lane."
Pillai is the vice president for the USU chapter of ACM-W, the Association of Computing Machinery for Women, an association that celebrates, informs and supports women in computing.
"We have activities for girls in computer science so we can get together," Pillai said.
Recent activities included listening to a guest speaker from Hewlett-Packard and a trip to a corn maze. Pillai said that girls wanting to join don't have to be a computer science major, they just need to be interested in it.
She said it is a good idea for women wanting to become computer science majors to join ACM-W because they will meet other women majoring in computer science and realize they are not the only one out there.
When Warren graduates this spring, she said she wants to get a job doing laboratory research or quality control, possibly with a biotech company, but definitely in the medical field. Creger, however, said she is planning on graduate school and would love to attend the University of California, San Diego because she said it is the "Mecca" for biological engineering.
Creger said she knew she wanted to major in biological engineering as a fourth grader because she wanted to find cures for diseases such as cancer, however she didn't know that's what it was called.
Her advice for women who are considering engineering as a major is "do it." She said there are many good jobs available and lots of scholarships, especially for women. Both agree that no matter who you are, in order to succeed in engineering, you need to have the desire and a good work ethic.