Gender Participation In Humanitarian Vs. Traditional Multidisciplinary Senior Design Projects
In 2003, the Colorado School of Mines received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to establish a minor in Humanitarian Engineering. One of the goals of the Hewlett Foundation’s Engineering Schools of the West Initiative was to increase the number and diversity of engineering students in the United States. We have investigated the gender mix of students in traditional multidisciplinary senior design projects for the Engineering Division at the Colorado School of Mines versus the gender mix of students choosing humanitarian-designated multidisciplinary projects. A humanitarian-based senior design project is a requirement for the Humanitarian Engineering Minor. Humanitarian projects included a broad range of topics such as a water quality project in an economically disadvantaged area of rural Colorado and construction of an onion storage facility in Senegal. Four semesters of senior design classes were investigated with about 500 students participating. Women comprised about 23% of the total class population for these senior design course offerings. In the Humanitarian projects, women comprised over 50%. This significant difference supports the concept that women will be drawn more to engineering as a career if the application of engineering to humanitarian problems is emphasized. CSM and a History of Women on Campus Colorado School of Mines, founded in 1874, is a public research university devoted to engineering and applied science with a student body of 3500. It has the highest admissions standards of any university in Colorado and among the highest of any public university in the U.S. CSM has distinguished itself by developing a curriculum and research program that is geared towards responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources. In addition to strong education and research programs in traditional fields of science and engineering, CSM is one of a very few institutions in the world having broad expertise in resource exploration, extraction, production and utilization. As such, CSM occupies a unique position among the world’s institutions of higher education 1 . Women have participated in much of the history of CSM 2 . The first woman to graduate, Florence Caldwell, received a degree in Civil Engineering in 1898. By 1959, three more women had graduated. In the 1960’s, the number of women at CSM increased and an additional 10 P ge 10660.1 “Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright@2005, American Society for Engineering Education” women received degrees. The first PhD awarded to a woman (Catherine Skokan, one author of this paper), occurred in 1974. Today, both the undergraduate and graduate student populations are composed of 25% women. This is greater than the national average of 20.4% 3 . However, we continue to strive to increase diversity in our student body. The Hewlett Foundation Grant In Fall 2002 the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation issued a request for proposals to a limited number of universities and colleges in western states. The general objectives of the Hewlett-sponsored program were to improve the quality of engineering education in terms of recruitment and retention of under-represented groups, innovative teaching and learning strategies, advancement of student professionalism, development of academic and industrial partnerships, and extended impact. CSM responded with a proposal for the development of a minor program in Humanitarian Engineering. The Hewlett Foundation funded our proposal. In addition, eight other universities: Boise State University, Idaho State University, Montana State University, Northern Arizona University, Oregon State University, University of Nevada/Reno, University of Utah, and the University of Wyoming received funding. The collective group is known as the Engineering Schools of the West Initiative (ESWI). The overall goal of the Humanitarian Engineering program at CSM is the creation of new cadre of engineers, sensitive to social contexts, committed and qualified to serve humanity by contributing to the solution of complex problems at regional, national, and international levels and locations around the world in need of “smart” technical assistance. We are achieving this goal through the development of a comprehensive humanitarian engineering curriculum that teaches engineering students how to bring technical knowledge and skill to bear on the realworld problems of the less materially advantaged in order to promote development of the common good. We focus on our existing strengths -in energy systems, geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering, remote sensing, signal processing, and image processing, and new technologies for “Sustainable Engineering,” and in emerging engineering disciplines including, bioengineering, information systems, and micro-nano systems. These capabilities are applied to the solution of problems for areas and people who can benefit from engineering expertise. This objective is particularly relevant to the CSM, a school with a long tradition of leadership in resource and minerals fields, but with a strong commitment to stewardship of global resources. Incorporation and implementation of humanitarian projects into Senior Design is but one component of the new curriculum, which extends to the development of new courses, modification of existing courses, and outreach activities. The focus of this article is on the humanitarian projects in Senior Design, but more information on the overall program can be found at the CSM website (http://humanitarian.mines.edu/home.htm). Four specific goals of the Humanitarian Engineering program were defined in the original proposal: (1) Create a culture of acceptance and value of community and international service activities at CSM. The goal is to create an enhanced appreciation of the value and importance of the participation of engineers in community and international service. P ge 10660.2 “Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright@2005, American Society for Engineering Education” (2) Increase the number of CSM engineering graduates that enter occupations that have a community or international service emphasis. Although this is a long time goal, we anticipate measurable changes in employment patterns by the conclusion of the grant. (3) Increase the recruitment of women and minority students to the engineering program at CSM. As a result of new recruitment activities that emphasize service and our K-12 outreach activities, we anticipate an increase in applications from women and minority students. (4) Increase the number of engineering students that enter internships in community or international service. Assessment measures for each of these specific goals were established, and some results are presented in a concurrent ASEE paper 4 . Goal number 3 is particularly relevant to the current paper. The challenge is to attract larger numbers of female and minority students into the pool of applicants to CSM through the program in Humanitarian Engineering. As we discuss below, the newly inaugurated Senior Design projects with humanitarian themes are attractive to current female upper-class students. The next step is to publicize these activities to K-12 students and teachers to improve their understanding of the contributions that engineering makes to society. Through these efforts, both the K-12 teachers and students will learn that engineering is a profession dedicated to the benefit of the community.
We believe that this awareness will encourage more students to seriously consider careers in engineering. Senior Design Program The CSM Engineering Division Capstone Design Course is a creative multidisciplinary design experience emerging from combined efforts in civil, electrical, mechanical, and environmental specialties in engineering. Within the engineering community it is widely believed that many of the challenges which are facing practicing engineers in the 21st century can best be met by exploiting multidisciplinary approaches. This Program in Senior Capstone Engineering Design has been established to demonstrate the value and ingenuity which can be derived from cooperative design efforts among traditional engineering disciplines. Project for the senior design program are suggested by industrial, academic, and governmental clients, and from professional society through engineering contests. The requirements are that the project be open-ended, multidisciplinary, and have non-engineering constraints (e.g., economic, environmental, aesthetic). There must be a client external to the senior design faculty and usually outside of the school. The students are given a choice of 20 to 50 projects (depending upon class enrollment) and write a memo stating their top three choices. The senior design faculty team assigns three to five students to each project by taking into account the student choice and student capabilities as indicated on a resume, and assigning a multidisciplinary mix for the final team. Gender is not a consideration in team or project assignment. Since the spring semester of 2003, the project choices have included humanitarian projects. These projects have incorporated community water projects, curriculum help for rural and innercity schools, building design and construction, and engineering solutions for economic expansion. Both domestic and international projects have been undertaken. Page 10660.3 “Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright@2005, American Society for Engineering Education” One example of an assignment was a water project in rural Conejos County, Colorado. Conejos County is located in South Central Colorado and has a population of 8400. Twenty-three percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
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