Prevailing gender gap in the College of Engineering and Computer Science

In Campus News, Local News, National News, News

Correction: This story was corrected on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 3:24 p.m. In the Nov. 2 issue of the Daily Titan, the article titled “Prevailing gender gap” contained some errors.  First, the article’s language suggested that data regarding Engineering and Computer Science undergraduates referred to new students who enrolled in ECS each fall.  The data actually includes new, continuing and returning students.  Second, the story stated that the data was from a study conducted by the CSUF Office of Institutional Research & Analytical Studies.  The data actually came from data dashboards on the office’s website.  Third, the article stated that there has been a 3.5 percent increase of women in ECS from fall 2012 to fall 2016.  The increase in the total undergraduate ECS enrollment during this time period has been 2.5 percentage points, but the actual percentage change is a 21.7 percent increase.  Fourth, the illustration on front page and language throughout the article stated that the data was collected about the admission of students.  The data actually reflected numbers regarding the enrollment of students.

The illustration has been removed from this online story.

While there has been a massive outreach to increase enrollments to all STEM majors on the Cal State Fullerton campus, there are still not nearly as many females as males in the College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS).

This phemonmenon is not only felt on CSUF’s campus but across the nation. According to a study done by U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index, the gender gap in STEM related employment and education is consistently wide in all states.

The gender gap in the CSUF college is significant and while the rate of women in the field has increased by 2.5 percent over the past five years, resulting in a 21.7 percent total percent change, it has barely dented the male-dominated area, according to data from CSUF’s office of Institutional Research and Analytical Studies.

For fall 2016 undergraduate enrollments, 203 Hispanic, 60 international, 63 Caucasian, 24 multiracial, less than 10 African American and 153 Asian females entered into the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

In comparison, there were 1075 Hispanic, 583 Caucasian, 102 multiracial, 45 African American, 488 international and 785 Asian males enrolled at the same time.

Fall 2013’s transfer students to the college only saw slightly above 7 percent for females, while males were 92.9 percent of enrollments.

Sharda Hebbalkar, a third-year mechanical engineering major and chemistry minor, is the only female in the Titan Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Club, an organization she is actively involved with.

Hebbalkar works on the analysis of plane wings, testing to see what the maximum carrying load is. Through equations, she tests the stress and strain on different wings.

Hebbalkar said the female-to-male ratio in her college is massive, to the point that she often ends up being one of two women in an entire lecture hall.

Hebbalkar said she feels like one of the few females in her large lecture classes, speculating the ratio may be two to 40 at times.

Hebbalkar said while the experience she is getting from the engineering college is intimidating, it’s also really “cool.” For her, it’s essentially about girl power.

Rubi Raymundo, a second-year mechanical engineering major, has the same sentiments as Hebbalkar.

Raymundo, who also felt intimidated going into mechanical engineering, said that “it’s weird, but little by little you get used to it.”

Both women jumped into the field because it interested them.

Hebbalkar’s father and sister are both engineers, which also had an influence on her choice of major.

Raymundo said that if the College of ECS wants more women, they need to put more effort out there.

Fall 2016 enrollment saw an influx of 3,720 undergraduate students into the college, with 86 percent of the students being male and 14 percent being female.

In 2015, 3,455 students entered the College of ECS with 86.7 percent male and 13.3 percent female enrollment.

2014 had a 12.9 percent female to 87.1 percent male undergraduate ratio entering the college.

When looking at the data over a five-year period, the number of women who enter the school has risen, but still remains under 20 percent, currently making the college over 80 percent male.

Both Hebbakalar and Raymundo said that in their college careers, they have almost never come across any women professors in the College of ECS.

Hebbakalar said she feels that while she has no problems being in a male-dominated field, she still sometimes can come across some individuals who refuse to see alternate perspectives.

“If you’re trying to prove your techniques, it’s harder to convince them I guess,” Hebbakalar said.

Other factors that could be holding women back include work and family but it’s not to say that there’s a lack of interest in STEM majors.

“Here’s the bottom line. You’ve got these male-dominated professions, and it’s completely unnecessary. Females have just as much to offer,” said Brent Foster, interim director for the Office of Undergraduate Studies and General Education.
Foster said it’s about debunking myths that STEM majors are only for men.

“Quite frankly, (for) the female student that can overcome all of these obstacles and barriers, the sky is truly the limit,” Foster said.

Hebbakalar agrees that women might have the misconception that working in engineering requires hefty labor and strictly building.

“I think that’s what it is. You just go into the machine shop and then just make the parts for the car and whatever, but it’s really not that. I’m just sitting on the computer designing it, designing the parts, and that’s fun,” Hebbakalar said.
Sang June Oh, Ph.D., interim associate dean for the College of Engineering and Computer Science, said that perception is a key factor in why the field is still male-dominated.

Oh wrote in an email that the U.S. government and CSUF is putting strong efforts to promote STEM education to underrepresented groups, especially for women who are part of underrepresented minority groups.

As for what’s currently being done to improve the gap and encourage women to partake in engineering majors, there have been efforts by the College of ECS to get women more involved. For example, organizations such as Women in Computing and Engineering, Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery-Women are all student organizations geared toward ensuring that women become involved in STEM.

Raymundo and Hebbakalar also said that exposing girls at a young age to STEM majors through more efforts like the collaboration between the Girl Scouts of Orange County and CSUF on Oct. 30 are what will help the future of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“It’s not all just manufacturing, there’s so (many) options you can do with engineering,” Raymundo said about the lack of females in the college. “You don’t have to limit yourself … That shouldn’t hold you back.”

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