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30 for 30 Profile: Purdue University Women in Engineering Program

August 12, 2021

The Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University College of Engineering is dedicated to enriching the profession of engineering through the full participation of women, and develops and directs activities that provide encouragement for girls and young women to study engineering, information about careers and companies, and an environment conducive to the successful completion of students' studies.

Dr. Beth M. Holloway is the Leah H. Jamieson Director of Women in Engineering, a position she has held for twenty years, and also the Assistant Dean for Diversity and Engagement. Holloway is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). She has served as WEPAN President and on the WEPAN Board of Directors. Her interest in advocacy work stemmed from her time working in industry, when she was tasked with recruitment efforts. “I’d look around at how many women were working in engineering, and felt that there weren’t as many as there should be,” she says.

Purdue is a Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) 30 for 30 Institutional Champion. “My predecessor in the Women in Engineering Program, Dr. Jane Zimmer Daniels, was one of the founders of WEPAN, so our relationship with the organization has been there from the beginning,” says Holloway.

She views WEPAN membership as valuable in a number of ways.

“The connection to a professional community working on diversifying engineering education is so important, because it comes with opportunities for professional development, collaboration, and sharing of best practices. It really helps us stay connected to what others are doing and it’s a wonderful networking opportunity.”

Established in 1969, Purdue’s Women in Engineering Program was the first of its kind in the nation and has been a model for such programs at other universities. Since then, the enrollment of women in the College of Engineering has increased from less than one percent to the current 26 percent.

The Program strives to build community at multiple levels for its students. For example, the Women in Engineering Residential Program allows first-year women majoring in engineering to opt to live together on designated housing floors. This clustering promotes informal, spontaneous conversations, which can turn into study groups, which can turn into friendships. The Program also has a robust undergraduate peer mentoring program, where juniors and seniors create networks with first-years and sophomores in a variety of situations.

Community with the broader Purdue network is created in part through the Women in Engineering Seminar, a one-credit course that began in 1977. Alumnae return and share stories about their experiences in engineering, which range from career choices and their daily routines on the job, to challenges and successes in their professions. The class is popular, with over 300 students regularly signing up each year. Holloway herself remembers attending the class as a first year engineering student at Purdue, and later came back to be a speaker when she was working in industry. “It’s a great way for students to be inspired about the possibilities open to them. Many speakers will mention how they remember taking the class themselves as students, and how impactful it was, so it’s a great circle of engagement.”

WIEP also runs outreach programs for K-10th grade students. The goal, according to Holloway, isn’t really to improve application numbers, but to introduce kids to engineering and to the idea that women can be competent, capable, and successful engineers. “You’re often told that if you love math and science, you should be an engineer,” says Holloway. “What we try to tell kids and parents is that math and science are tools engineers use, and that the engineering process is what makes the field unique. Engineering is a way to make an impact on the world, to turn your ideas and imagination into something tangible and useful.”

Holloway is proud of  the growth of the Women in Engineering Program. When she started as Director, the mentoring program served 96 students, and the program was conducting one summer camp that served 40 students a year. Now, the mentoring program serves close to 600 undergrads yearly, and over 4,000 K-10th grade students take part in outreach programs each year. “Our goal is always to provide enough types of programming and spaces so that interested students can participate, and to make sure our programming is providing value and inspiration.”

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