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Women Engineers Still In Extreme Minority

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX –

Far more men than women become engineers. But teachers and a room full of female high school students are working to change that. KERA's Bill Zeeble tells us about a summer class this week at Southern Methodist University designed to draw more women into the field of engineering.

Civil Engineering News says 80 percent of the science and engineering workforce are men. That's an improvement from 1966, when that number was 97 percent. Don Ruggles, who directs the engineering academy at Hightower High School near Houston, teaches this SMU class of north Texas female high schoolers entering their Junior and Senior Years.

Ruggles: They've been told for generations they probably couldn't be good in a technical field. We're closing that gap, but we still have a ways to go. Mostly, we still somewhat give little trucks and footballs to guys and dolls and things like that to girls. And that's changing

Thanks, in part to classes like this. Twenty-eight young women in the morning session showed off their team assignment to the rest of the class: transportation of the future. Teens Taylor Berry, Mahvish Iqbal, and Taylor Waters presented their Dragonfly, a solar and nuclear powered vehicle that rolls and flies.

Iqbal, Berry, Waters: It would have 4 ball sockets instead of front wheels for more efficient steering.

These students love the creative challenges of engineering. Many have parents in field. Iqbal, Waters and Berry have long dreamt of becoming engineers.

Taylor Waters: I've always loved to build and create things I've wanted to be an engineer since I was 7 years old.

Iqbal: And hope to develop something that'll really help everyone else kind of live a better life.

Berry: Even when I was little I said I wanted to paint houses. I told my mom I wanted to paint. She said like what, flowers? Fruit? I said no. Houses. We had passed a day care and they had murals. And I liked murals. Then as I got older, I can't just, like, die knowing, like "someone asks me, what did you do with your life?" like "I made houses pretty." So I thought more of getting into architecture and understanding the whole construction.

These bright teens are also mentored by female engineer Missy Brady, who works at Texas Instruments. She encourages these students the way she was in high school. Brady recalls career day, when a nurse drew about 40 girls to find out more about nursing. She went to hear the female engineer, who attracted three students.

Missy Brady: She was beautiful and successful and sounded like she had so much fun. She was a Civil engineer. I thought that's really cool. I thought if she can do it I can do it. That started me.

These days, Brady designs computer chips embedded in cars, to make them safer.

Brady: That's something I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would do. Because cars aren't a thing girls worked on. It's the stereotype. My husband can drive a car with my chips in it, and my mom can drive a car with my chips in it, so that's pretty neat.

Brady says women bring new and different perspectives to solving problems engineers deal with every day. And she says for years to come, there will be a shortage of qualified engineers.

Email Bill Zeeble