CHAPTER 12: ENGINEERING PROGRAM
The idea of establishing or emphasizing more. socially beneficial programs in engineering may be inspired by needs of women in engineering, but can profit everybody: men and women in engineering, and the human population at large(Micaela Serra, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Victoria, West Coast Forum).
Courses that emphasize the beneficial applications of technology and engineering Will increase the appeal of engineering programs to women. Examples include solving environmental problems with appropriate technology, inventing tools and equipment for people with disabilities, designing and constructing safe highways, and developing people-friendly technologies for use in hospitals.
All engineering students also need to understand the complex nature of technological decision making and that the best solutions are based on a blend of technological, political and societal values. Engineering faculty members should be made responsible for incorporating social context and human values in their technical courses. Social context reflects gender differences and cultural diversity.
The CCWE also suggests that a committee or committees be appointed to review the social context of existing and new courses. A balanced and diverse review would be ensured by a gender-balanced committee that includes representatives of engineering, humanities, and social sciences faculties. The participation of humanities and social sciences faculty is particularly important in reviews of engineering profession, engineering ethics, and engineering and society courses.
Humanities and social science electives
I consider removing the obstacles that stand at present between engineering and other parts of the university an essential part of overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of women's full participation in engineering
The Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) requires that at least one-eighth of the total course content for engineering students be devoted to complementary or non-engineering subjects. However, opportunities for engineering students to take a variety of non-engineering courses are often restricted because students have the option of only three or four non-technical electives within their schedules. Many engineering students do not take their humanities and social sciences courses seriously, consider them secondary to their engineering courses, and do not understand their relevance to their future careers. One concern is that engineering students have few opportunities to mix with students from other disciplines; many elective courses are offered in-house to engineering students and are taught by non-engineering professors.
Faculties of engineering should encourage engineering students to take courses in which engineering, humanities and social science students and faculty interact. Interaction among students of various disciplines will allow engineering students to develop an understanding of the humanities and social sciences, and non-engineering students to become more comfortable with technology. Engineering students should also be encouraged to participate in women's studies so they will understand the contributions of women and their changing role in society and the workplace.
New workplace skills
In the past, engineering profession and ethics courses have focused primarily on responsibility to clients. However, students will be better prepared for the workplace if they accept the need for employment equity programs, understand harassment, and recognize the contributions women and members of minority groups make in the workplace. Future engineers need to understand that many employers expect men to be able to work successfully with and for women, and have adopted workplace policies that prohibit homophobia, racism and sexism.
Gender differentiation is implicit in the construction of engineering knowledge through the content of courses, the methodologies employed, and the pattern of informal and formal relationships which students experience. The traditional understanding of engineering relates to male norms (Patricia Usher and Kate Ward, The University of Southhampton, CCWE Conference).
The numbers of women in engineering may not increase substantially unless the curriculum is made more relevant to them, that is, less masculine and more reflective of societal needs. Some studies suggest that the grades of women engineering students drop more, at least initially, than the grades of their male classmates because women are putting their energies into adjusting to a male environment (Pomfret and Gilbert, CCWE Conference) and to a masculine curriculum (Menzies, Ottawa Forum; Usher and Ward, CCWE Conference).
Faculties of engineering and the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) should incorporate feminine perspectives in the engineering curriculum. The curriculum and all related materials (textbooks, lab assignments, examination questions, illustrations, case studies and problems) should be gender-inclusive. Of utmost importance is the creation of an engineering curriculum that is relevant to women's experiences and that includes the achievements of women engineers and scientists.
Engineering faculty should become familiar with scholarship on gender bias, and on women's experiences and history. To facilitate the integration of women's perspectives in the engineering curriculum, researchers in women's studies should be encouraged to share their insights and discoveries with those who teach engineering and develop engineering textbooks and teaching materials.
I did not feel comfortable around electrical power and wires, oscilloscopes and tools in the laboratories. At first, I was able to avoid the problem as my male lab partners were more than willing to do it for me. However, this lowered my self-confidence and made me apprehensive of my ability to become an engineer. Luckily, I became involved in the co-op program and found myself working with the hydro company for the summer. After a summer spent working around highvoltage switching equipment where I was forced to figure things out by myself, I came to realize that I actually could do these things.
Work-experience, work-study and co-op programs are designed to give engineering students opportunities to practice what they learn in the classroom in the workplace and to apply textbook theories in actual situations. Work experience also enables students to relate educational interests to career objectives. Although work-experience programs do not suit all students, they may provide women engineering students with valuable experiences that may encourage them to continue in their studies.
We believe the (work/experience) program provides a way of easing the entry of women students and graduates into non-traditional workplaces
Many women engineering students first encounter discrimination and harassment during their work/study placements. In the Committee's view, such incidents are a profound deterrent, and all students need to be aware of their rights in the workplace. Prior to placement in the workplace, all students should participate in an orientation program that defines workplace harassment, reviews university harassment policies and explains how students can make complaints. Work-experience coordinators, whether faculty advisors or full-time staff, also need to be aware of harassment, discrimination and employers' expectations if they are to advise and counsel students appropriately.
The experiences of students should be reviewed following their work-terms. Students should be required to complete a comprehensive questionnaire and given opportunities to share their experiences with other work-experience students and the coordinator.
It is important that employers understand their responsibility to ensure that work-experience students are not subjected to discriminatory behavior, and that future placements will not be made at sites that do not provide an environment free of discrimination and harassment. Deans of engineering should inform work-experience placement employers that the faculty has procedures to handle complaints of workplace harassment, and has advised students to use them. Deans must also develop and implement a mechanism to follow-up inequities and other unacceptable situations with senior officials of the employing organization. We also suggest that students be made aware of firms that have demonstrated support for hiring and advancing women engineers.
Engineering educators should examine work/experience programs to determine their effect on the progression and attrition of women engineering students.
At our public forums, faculty, students and engineers expressed concern about the heavy workload of engineering students and the tendency to weed students out rather than to develop and support them. Concern was also expressed that inflexible programs at some universities allow students very little choice in course selection. It was also noted that students may use very little of what they learn in the classroom once they are out in the workforce. Some called for out-dated information to be removed to free up time for more relevant information, such as problem-solving and communication skills.
Faculties of engineering and the CEAB should review the academic workload of engineering programs in consultation with employers of engineers; where students' workload is deemed unreasonably heavy, it should be reduced. Some universities already offer flexible programs that allow students to complete their studies in four to seven years.
16. The CCWE recommends that the engineering curriculum be made relevant to current societal realities and future needs so that engineering students are conscious of the effects of engineering decisions and designs, and develop an understanding of and appreciation for the humanities and social sciences.
Schedule for success:
17. The CCWE recommends that faculties of engineering develop and expand work/experience programs and encourage women students to participate so that they are able to validate their career choice and relate engineering studies to the workplace.
Schedule for success.