Women often outnumbered in engineering

In every engineering classroom Ingri Lopez has stepped inside, she routinely finds herself as the lone female in an area of men.

While female students outnumber their male counterparts at SF State by more than a 12 percent difference, the gender ratio in engineering classrooms is contradictory.

“It seems like a manly thing,” said Lopez, an electrical engineering sophomore, of her major.

Last spring, SF State’s School of Engineering had 26 percent female enrollment, according to Dr. Nilgun Ozer, the engineering program director at SF State.

This is significantly disproportionate to the composition of the entire school, which was 59 percent female and 41 percent male in 2009 according to a report by the SF State Academic Planning and Development Department.

Historically, there have been legal and societal practices that have limited women from pursuing careers in certain fields according to Julietta Hua, assistant professor of women and gender studies at SF State.

“There’s these social and cultural attitudes around what acceptable roles and behaviors are for women and men, combined with legal restrictions and realities that make it more attractive for women to be in certain fields and not others,” Hua said.  “Some students are encouraged to work in math and science and other students are not, and I think that also plays into the contemporary discrepancies.”

According to Ricardo Rodriguez, engineering had always seemed like a male occupation.

“I think it’s the whole ‘it’s a man’s field’ you know, that it’s men who build buildings,” said Ricardo Rodriguez, a mechanical engineering senior as well as a member of the Society of Hispanic Engineers.

Ozer cited academic and familial pressures as another reason women were dissuaded from pursuing a career in engineering.

“They are not encouraged with their parents or the teachers for studying engineering. Especially the students from the Latino population,” Ozer said. “They are forced to study business or social sciences.”

In 2008, female enrollment in the SF State College of the Humanities reached 65 percent, while male enrollment stayed at 35 percent.

Nationally, 80 percent of engineering bachelor degrees were earned by men, according to a 2005 study done by the National Science Foundation.

Despite the gender gap, several female students continue to choose engineering because it is what intrigues them.

“I’m interested in the stuff that’s inside your phone, how it works,” Lopez said.

According to a study compiled by the National Science Foundation, women have made gains in the past two decades in the life sciences, including psychology, biology and chemistry.

Rodriguez predicted the same outcome was on its way for the field of engineering.

“We’re getting to a point where more people realize engineering is really not a man’s thing, it’s about getting to know how the world works,” he said.

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