Closing the Gender Gap
Smith College offers the first engineering track at an all-women college
By Jon Marcus
The name of one of the newest courses at Smith College may seem self-explanatory to the literal-minded science students who attend this elite all-women, liberal arts school.
English majors are to be forgiven if they prefer to dwell on the symbolism.
The class is called Designing the Future, and it serves as the introduction to Smith's new undergraduate engineering program. It is literally a course in mechanical and electrical design. But it also marks the first engineering track at an all-women college, and only the third at a top liberal arts school.
Symbolism is, in fact, a part of the equation. Smith's new self-contained engineering major, which replaces a modest dual-degree program with Dartmouth College, has only one professor and 19 students. At capacity, it is projected to produce only 25 graduates per year, beginning some time after 2004. But it is in the vanguard of a concerted new movement to increase the number of women in a field seemingly more cloistered than any outside the Catholic priesthood-and to change the way all engineers are taught.
"The world would be different in all kinds of ways if there were more women in this profession," said John Connolly, provost and dean of the faculty. "Smith can't do that alone, but we can send a message here." Besides, he said, "the impact on the campus is significantly greater if you have a program of this kind. The New York Times doesn't put you on the front page for signing an agreement with Dartmouth."
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