Help me get more women in my engineering course

For two years now, I’ve offered what Hamline calls a First Year Seminar entitled “Hamline Engineering.” It’s been a fun class, featuring:

  • daily challenges
  • guest speakers (including a woman who works for the Army corps of engineers)
  • catapults
  • designing a year-long research activity that can take the place of general physics lab

The problem is that, for two years now, there’s only been one woman who’s signed up for the course. About all they know about the course comes from the blurb that’s printed up with all the blurbs from the other first year seminars. I figure I need to update mine to get more women interested. Here’s what I’ve used in the past:

Title: Hamline Engineering

Description:
How do engineers think? Are they any different from scientists? How can a Hamline education prepare me for potential engineering careers? What can I do with some super glue and a propane torch? These are just some of the questions we’ll tackle in this class. We’ll explore engineering challenges from lots of different directions, constantly checking that everyone has ten fingers and toes, of course. In order to understand as much as possible about the interconnections among engineering, science, and society, we’ll read about the history of engineering, talk with practicing engineers, tour engineering firms, and tackle various challenges. You’ll produce both written reports and YouTube videos to document your learning, including footage from our high speed cameras. You’ll also plan a year-long project that, if completed in the spring, can count as your General Physics I laboratory. Note that Calculus I (MATH 1170) is a co-requisite for this course.

Any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated. It’s due at the end of the month.

Edit (1/27/2014):

Here’s a new stab:

How do engineers think? Are they any different from scientists? How are engineers creative? What can I engineer that will help people? These are just some of the questions we’ll tackle in this class. We’ll explore engineering challenges from lots of different directions, constantly sharpening our own definition of engineering. In order to understand as much as possible about the interconnections among engineering, science, and society, we’ll read about the history of engineering, talk with practicing engineers, tour engineering firms, and tackle various challenges. You’ll produce both written reports and YouTube videos to document your learning, including footage from our high speed cameras. You’ll also plan a year-long project that, if completed in the spring, can count as your General Physics I laboratory. Note that Calculus I (MATH 1170) is a co-requisite for this course.

Some comment starters for you:

  1. This class sounds cool, but the part that turns women off is . . .
  2. The class sounds dumb. You’re a physicist/teacher, not an engineer. Get someone else to teach it who . . .
  3. I’ve taken this class and it was awesome. What I especially loved was . . .
  4. I’ve taken this class and it sucked. What especially sucked was . . .
  5. Women are turned off from competitive challenges. Do less of those.
  6. Women enjoy competitive challenges. Explain those better.
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About Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist

Associate professor of physics at Hamline.
This entry was posted in syllabus creation. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Help me get more women in my engineering course

  1. bretbenesh says:

    This class sounds awesome. I am a man.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      I have now, thanks! It seems that the biggest effect happens when you take time to talk about women’s representation, but I’m not sure the blurb is where to do that.

  2. John Burk says:

    Andy,
    How are you promoting this course? Have you thought about sending out an invitation to females specifically asking them to consider it?

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      the physics department does some phone calling and we mention this course, but we’ve never done more than that. Hopefully the feedback I’m getting here will help us with how to present it.

      • John Burk says:

        So this course is only for first semester freshmen, right? It seems like you’ll need to do some work to help change the conception many young women have of engineering. A number of colleges in our area host Saturday open houses and workshops to help introduce girls in high school to engineering. Have you ever thought of trying to organize something like that?

  3. Melissa says:

    Superglue and a propane torch, checking that everyone has all their fingers and toes? That is not appealing to me at all, and I’m a hands-on, experimental physicist.

    I consider engineering to be the discipline that is responsible for designing solutions to the challenges (big and little) that society faces. Engineering is fun because you get to creatively problem solve in a practical way and it spans the spectrum from very cutting edge, complicated and expensive new electronic technologies to very low tech, cheap and life-saving projects in the developing world. Engineers do everything from building a better mouse trap to designing greener cities, and engineers can make a huge difference in improving the quality of people’s lives.

    The above is rambling, but it gives you a sense of why I, as a woman, think engineering is so cool! I’m not sure whether any of that can translate into a course description, but I would encourage you to think about tweaking the description.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Thanks, Melissa, this is super helpful. I wrote the original 2 years ago to try to capture some of the spirit of the (very gender balanced) “Hamline Mythbusters” class, and now your suggestions are exactly what I think are needed. The notion of being hands-on is what I was going for with the propane and toes, but your description of what you like is much more in line with the definition of engineering that both classes have come up with. I’m just mad I didn’t make these sorts of changes last year.

  4. gcschmit says:

    While focused on encouraging young women to pursue computer science (as opposed to pursuing engineering), I learned a great deal at the Tapestry Workshop that I attended this summer: http://cstapestry.wikidot.com/ and think much of it applies to engineering (and physics). Organizations like NCWIT: http://www.ncwit.org/ also have great resources.

    A couple of specific suggestions based on the research shared at the workshop are: focus on the collaborative nature of engineering and focus on how engineering solves problems that affect people in the real world (social context). That said, watch out for triggering the stereotype threat in the description.

    A catapult may not appeal to some young women as much as Dean Kamen’s slingshot water purifier.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      thanks for the great resources, Geoff, I really appreciate it. That’s really a great point about the catapult vs water purifier. I hope to get a new draft out pretty soon.

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