Wellesley Course Will Encourage Women to Study Engineering
July 5, 2006
Mass. -- Wellesley College, the nation’s top women’s
college, extends its academic reach next spring with a course
aimed at encouraging a career in engineering. “Introduction
to Engineering Science” will be a major part of a new introductory
engineering experience designed to connect Wellesley students
with opportunities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering – and beyond.
The new course
is funded by a grant of $235,000 from the Davis Educational Foundation,
established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis
after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s
work in teams on projects that incorporate basic engineering
principles and will use modern tools and techniques
that cut across many engineering disciplines. The goal is to bring
more women into the field of engineering.
are still less likely than boys to select engineering and other
physics-based science fields in college,” noted
a 2002 article in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science
and Engineering. A 2004 National Academy of Engineering report,
"The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century,"
looks ahead to the not-too-distant future when engineers are predicted
to become leaders in everything from government to medicine. In
the 21st century, engineering looks to be an outstanding career
choice for the best and brightest students, both male and female.
the new course, engineers from a range of disciplines will discuss
frontiers and career possibilities with the
Wellesley students, who will also take advantage of coordinated
advising, in which professors from Wellesley, MIT and Olin will
help to identify a program of engineering courses to complement
each student’s major.
Wellesley students have long been able to cross register for classes
at MIT and more recently at Olin. The new class will make it easier
to explore and further engineering studies.
This introduction to engineering has been several years in development,
beginning with a series of discussions at Wellesley in 2003. In
2005, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Wellesley
physics professor Theodore Ducas visited a number of leading institutions
in engineering education to design the project. In addition to
consulting with professors, he attended classes and laboratories
to see how students experienced their exposure to engineering.
half-unit version of the course was offered during Wellesley’s month-long Wintersession in January 2006. “It
was one of the most worthwhile classes I've taken at Wellesley,” said
Wellesley sophomore Breanna Skinner of Dingle, Idaho, about the
Wintersession preview. “For me, it opened up the different
options I could take in following a path in engineering.”
Skinner especially enjoyed exploring the parallels between engineering
and other disciplines.
“We used a computer program, and, while learning about circuits
and elementary electronics, created a virtual spring which we could
use in a clock,” Skinner said. “We also learned that
engineering projects often model ideas from nature. We were able
to take our finished oscillating wheels, powered by the virtual
springs, and link them together. We started them out-of-phase,
but found that they soon synchronized. This behavior is found in
some social animals in nature.”
will help Skinner map out future studies. “I
plan to continue taking physics and math courses at Wellesley,
and perhaps some engineering classes at other schools,” she
said. “I'm not completely sure what I want to do ‘when
I grow up,’ but I feel Wellesley, and the programs Wellesley
opens up in other schools, will be good preparation if I decide
engineering is a career option.”
Next spring, Ducas will join two Olin engineering professors,
Gill Pratt and Brian Storey, to form the team that will teach the
first full term version of the class. Ducas believes the course
can show how students at a leading liberal arts college can get
an effective start on the path towards becoming engineering leaders.
“The engineers of the future will need to combine their
technical skills with the ability to communicate effectively and
with an awareness of the social contexts of their projects,” he
said. “I believe our Wellesley students who graduate with
a science major and an engineering complement will be in an especially
good position to make significant positive contributions to society.”
has long stated its mission as “to provide an
excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference
in the world.” With the addition of engineering, Wellesley
will certainly expand the opportunities for it students to make
a difference in an increasingly technological world. For
more information, go to www.wellesley.edu.