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Pam Cook (left) and Heather Doty share how UD’s College of Engineering is making strides to increase diversity among its ranks.
Pam Cook (left) and Heather Doty share how UD’s College of Engineering is making strides to increase diversity among its ranks.

Seeking equality in engineering

Photo by University of Delaware

Q&A with Pam Cook and Heather Doty of College of Engineering and UD ADVANCE

Pam Cook, associate dean of engineering for faculty and the principal investigator of UD ADVANCE, and Heather Doty, a faculty member in the department of mechanical engineering and a co-principal investigator of UD ADVANCE, recently collaborated to answer our questions about some of the college’s impressive accomplishments—and goals for the future. They answered questions by email, either individually or with a joint response.

Over the past 15 years, the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering has tripled its proportion of women faculty.  

The college’s faculty and deans over the last 15 years have played critical roles in this effort and in the work of UD ADVANCE. UD ADVANCE, through funding from the National Science Foundation, has worked to recruit and retain an increasingly diverse pool of talented faculty to UD.

Q: How has UD built a system to support in engineering?

Cook: I established the Women in Engineering (WIE) graduate student steering committee to provide community-building, networking, and professional-development activities to students and faculty to foster a positive climate in the college. To this day, WIE is a vibrant resource on campus. For example, last month, they held a career panel that included professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics from companies such as Apple, ExxonMobil and Consumer Reports. Last September, we held a seminar with Jean Norvell, a former product specialist with W.L. Gore & Associates.

In 2008, I worked with a group of faculty and administrators, funded by a National Science Foundation ADVANCE PAID grant held jointly by the College of Engineering and the natural sciences portfolio of the College of Arts & Sciences, to develop workshops for faculty, by faculty on best practices for recruiting and mentoring faculty.

Doty: I was hired in 2009 to work with Pam on this grant. After it ended in 2013, we applied for and received continuation funding from the university, which helped us expand our reach.

Cook: In 2014, UD was awarded a $3.3 million ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant with me as the principal investigator and Heather as co-PI, along with Robin Andreasen (an associate professor of linguistics and cognitive sciences) and John Sawyer (associate provost for institutional research and effectiveness and a professor of management). Under this grant we established the UD ADVANCE Institute to improve the climate on campus for all faculty, with an emphasis on those who are underrepresented in their fields, especially women in STEM. For example, we hold workshops for faculty search committees, conduct a bi-annual faculty climate survey, and award mini-grants for women to pursue leadership or other professional-development trainings and opportunities.

Q: What improvements have been made within COE thanks to these efforts?

Cook and Doty: Although there is more work to do, we have made substantial improvements.  A few highlights:

  • We have more female faculty members. In 2003, only 7 percent of the tenured/tenure-track faculty in UD’s College of Engineering were women. Now, women make up 21 percent of the full-time engineering faculty. Nationwide, about 16 percent of university engineering faculty are women, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.
  • We have more women in leadership roles. Of the seven academic departments in UD’s College of Engineering, three are chaired by women. That’s the most in the history of the college. The dean’s cabinet now includes two female associate deans and a female deputy dean.
  • More women are receiving named professorships. Fifteen years ago, all of the named professors and junior named professors in the College of Engineering were men. Now, four of our named professors and three of our junior named professors are women.
  • We are bringing more female engineering leaders to visit our campus. The Richard and Janet Haines endowment to the WIE program has allowed us to substantially enhance our programmatic offerings. For example, we can now offer travel and lodging to engineers from around the country for our career panels. This allows us to bring in professionals from more disciplines and a greater diversity of companies.
  • We are making progress in terms of the number of undergraduate women in some departments, such as mechanical engineering. This department awarded 17.6 percent of its bachelor’s degrees to women in the 2016-2017 school year, exceeding the national average of 13.8 percent. This fall, female students made up 20.8 percent of mechanical engineering students at UD.

Q: Where do you want to see more progress?

Cook and Doty: We would like to see more women across all levels, especially graduate students and tenured professors. We really want to foster a supportive climate where women and men want to work and study, and where everyone can thrive and meet their professional goals. Programs like WIE and ADVANCE help make this happen.

Q: What lessons have you learned through WIE and ADVANCE?

Cook and Doty: Change is slow, but it can happen with work and persistence. The College of Engineering has made progress over the last many years, but that doesn’t mean we can slow down. UD will hire more faculty in the near future, which gives us a great opportunity to increase the proportion of women and other underrepresented groups among the faculty even more. Another lesson is that leadership is critical. Faculty hire faculty, so our faculty are to be commended for the strides that the College of Engineering has made in women’s representation over the last 15 years. However, the deans and chairs play significant roles as well. Without their strong leadership, change would be much harder to make. One example is that Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of the College of Engineering, who has significantly supported the goals of WIE and of UD ADVANCE.

Q: Why is mentorship important for women in engineering?

Cook and Doty: Mentoring is important for everyone. In today’s competitive and complex world, we all need all of the guidance, support, coaching, advocacy, and mentoring that we can get. Majority groups (like men in engineering) tend to have stronger networks of mentors and role models than do minority groups (like women or people of color in engineering). Historically, the overwhelming majority of engineers have been men. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to overcome this history. Most people still tend to associate engineering with men because of what they’ve observed and experienced during their lives. Strong networks of women engineers mentoring and advancing each other will make a difference.


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