30 for 30 Profile: Texas A&M Women in Engineering Program
The Women in Engineering (WE) program is a collegewide effort to create an inclusive environment at Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering. WE’s goal is to eliminate the underrepresentation of women by engaging students, professionals and advocates who support the advancement of women in engineering majors, the workforce and academic careers.
The College is a Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) 30 for 30 Institutional Champion, and Dr. Shawna Fletcher, Director of the Women in Engineering program, has been a WEPAN member since the late 1990s. “This organization was at the forefront of assisting WE program staff and directors and holds the history and evolution of these programs. It is a repository of information to assist engineering colleges to transform and understand the body of research associated with equity and inclusion,” she says.
“It brings immense value to any college of engineering, and other universities and two-year institutions can benefit from WEPAN’s knowledge base to create programs and practices to enhance their own campuses.”
The WE program was re-envisioned in 2015 and has changed to accommodate over 4,600 students and 2,000 prospective students. One program effort that has experienced major growth is the interdisciplinary technical WE project teams, which offer students of all genders a self-directed opportunity to participate in project design and leadership to enhance technical skills outside the classroom.
These project teams have grown from 70 students in 2015 to over 425 students each year who are actively engaged in hands-on, technical projects. Most team members are first- or second-year students who want to get involved and gain experience. There is a strong network of experienced students who volunteer to offer workshops and training to bring new members up to speed. Teams have won international awards and been recognized by industry and technical communities.
For schools interested in creating or expanding WE programs, Dr. Fletcher recommends becoming familiar with WEPAN's body of research that has been collected and disseminated over the past three decades. Creating a WE program is both grassroots and top-down and takes dedicated people who understand the value of women and how underrepresented students contribute to engineering as a profession.
Dr. Fletcher also considers networks and partnerships are the strength of any program and thinks WEPAN is the community of choice for colleges and universities to grow and enhance their WE programs . “Working with stakeholders and industry partners help to sustain WE efforts and are essential. The more support you have, the stronger the program. The stronger the program, the more people you can reach.”
Ultimately, Dr. Fletcher believes that involvement in WE programs empowers students, faculty and other stakeholders alike. “WE reaches out to students early and connects them to other Texas A&M engineering students, faculty and industry mentors. Once students become connected, they are more likely to pursue engineering and pursue engineering careers once they graduate.”