15 February 2008

Politically Correct Engineering

There is a huge problem with schools of engineering. They are overwhelmingly dominated by male students. This gender discrepancy is not politically correct. Even in women's colleges, engineering has been absent--women's colleges have not offered engineering degrees, until now.

The problem is THE MATH!!! Yes, engineering math is apparently too hard for most women to deal with, so something had to be done about THE MATH!!! Clever Smith College professor, Glenn Ellis, decided he would be the one to bring Engineering to women's colleges--starting with Smith. Ellis decided to do something about THE MATH!!!
The first women's college to offer an engineering degree, Smith is forging new paths in a field that's eager to swell its ranks in the United States. Women receive only 20 percent of bachelor's degrees in engineering, according to a new report by the National Science Board (NSB). Like a handful of other liberal arts colleges, Smith is producing graduates who've had a different type of engineering education – one that goes beyond technical training to focus on a broader context for finding solutions to humanity's problems; one that emphasizes ethics and communication; one so flexible that about half the students study abroad, which is rare, despite the multinational nature of many engineering jobs.

...He encouraged the diverse group to "play around" as they graphed how their distance from the sensor changed over short bursts of time. Anna Lorenz amused the class as she tried a moonwalk to keep her line as straight as possible. "That's a Smith first!" Ellis declared gleefully.___CSM

There is nothing wrong with using intuitive methods to teach the underlying concepts of calculus and mechanics. I highly recommend incorporating intuitive methods into math, engineering, and science myself. But you cannot leave out THE MATH!!!
I'm no expert, but I'm not clear on what you can engineer with "context, ethics, and communication." I hope the Chronicle is wrong in saying that this engineering curriculum emphasizes sociology and philosophy "as much as," um, engineering.

To be sure, if teaching in this way improves women's performance on actual engineering tasks, as opposed to just luring them into enrolling and sticking around, I'm all for it. But I find it hard to believe such distractions would improve on a focused curriculum, and I can't seem to find any information on (A) how these students compare to those who got into sex-integrated engineering programs and (B) how these women do when they graduate. Certainly, were the program working well, it wouldn't need affirmative-action deals like this:

Students who maintain an overall GPA of 3.5 and a GPA of 3.5 within the major are automatically admitted to graduate study in an engineering discipline at Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Michigan.___Source

We know that women and men have different aptitude curves for math and verbal ability. Test scores for males are higher in math, scores for females are higher in verbal ability.
Approximately 1.3 percent of the Medalists will be women. Since the prize is conferred quadrennially, we expect a female Fields Medalist to emerge approximately once every 103 years, that is, every 4/[3(0.013)] years. None has yet surfaced.

Rather than PC dumbing down engineering to fit more women and minorities, perhaps it would be better to invest our scarce resources in the persons who are best suited for the particular field of study. Do not select by race, gender, sexual orientation etc. Select by ability to learn and perform.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

While I worry that a tendency to focus on averages can dissuade people who would have an aptitude for a field to enter it, I also have no patience for the idea of quotas. If women in science tend to gravitate towards biology and medicine rather than physics and engineering, I don't see that as a problem that needs rectifying for the sake of "equality".

The problem that should be addressed is the one of how not to dissuade those women from pursuing engineering and math heavy careers who do indeed have the aptitude and desire. Having a more representative perspective on the designs that people will use and on the problems which get investigated is a worthy goal. But trying to broaden the appeal of a field by watering it down is not the answer and will lower the perceived worth of the education of women who go through and succeed at the genuine educational system.

Friday, 15 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

The problem that should be addressed is the one of how not to dissuade those women from pursuing engineering and math heavy careers who do indeed have the aptitude and desire.

Truly, Baron? But I am certain that billions of dollars are already being spent both in North America and in Europe to make sure that every qualified girl and woman is exquisitely aware of her every option in math, engineering, and the sciences.

Perhaps a handful of girls with aptitude slip through the expensive and elaborate safety nets every year.

In marked contrast, millions of boys are lost to technical education due to educational design that much better suits the girls' way of learning. Nary a tear is shed over them.

Friday, 15 February, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Yes, but as government programs these billions get the expected results. You can still find examples of women leaving the engineering field for cultural issues, not just academic ones. I was thinking that that was an issue of the college level rather than referring to the primary and secondary levels. You don't see men leaving engineering because it is too female oriented or because it has an environment hostile to men.

I have heard a lot about how the public system is so geared towards girls at the expense of boys but from where I sit it seems more to be geared towards leftism and hippie ideology. The fact that girls are just better at dealing with that is not a gender preference issue but a quality of education issue. I don't think that girls are being served any better than boys are by the system though that may indeed be the intent. They just think they are.

Friday, 15 February, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

On the issue of schools not serving girls as well as it is said they are, I found an interesting speech by the Dean of engineering at Cooper Union, Eleanor Baum. She mentions a survey she had done that showed that in many instances, women who went into engineering were discouraged by guidance councilors both from the field and from taking advanced math and science courses. I am sure that the girls who took that advice felt well served by the education system and probably made better grades than they would have. Whether their education was well served is a different matter entirely.

Friday, 15 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Well, Baron, thanks for the link, and I certainly read it with interest.

Since I intend to post on this issue intermittently for as long as I continue blogging, you will have plenty of opportunities to make further comment, if you wish.

Thanks, again.

Friday, 15 February, 2008  
Blogger Letty Cruz said...

Snake Oil Baron has said pretty much everything I was thinking very eloquently. And as a woman, I can attest to there being such a thing as work and study environments hostile to women. I dropped auto shop in high school because of the cat calls, discomfort about having a couple of girls in the shop, and just plain old harassment. Although the same thing, hostility, happens in a female-dominated environment (a male friend of mine quit a good job once because his female manager gave him unwelcome back rubs and computer messages but he was embarrassed to call it harassment), the majority of time (in my experience), it becomes of the oh-how-cute-he-wants-to-learn-sewing-aaawwww variety.

Also, in the unusually well-paid(for a traditionally female profession) nursing field, the huge increase in male nurses hasn't been met with the vicious overall hostility that women have been and are still met with in traditionally male-dominated fields. And for the record, I stronly oppose any watering down of any EDUCATIONAL standards.

Saturday, 16 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Anecdotal evidence of discrimination against girls and women is insufficient evidence of widespread discrimination. The huge amount of money being spent for outreaches to boost girls in science education is evidence that society is trying hard to make girls aware of opportunities.

Boys are expected to make it on their own, if they can, against all obstacles.

Saturday, 16 February, 2008  
Blogger IConrad said...

Also, in the unusually well-paid(for a traditionally female profession) nursing field, the huge increase in male nurses hasn't been met with the vicious overall hostility that women have been and are still met with in traditionally male-dominated fields. Umm... I don't know what planet you've been living on, but as anyone who has faced the blatant social network discrimination of CNA and other female-dominated therapeutic professions can guarantee it exists. Add in the further biased nature of disciplinary boards (especially where sexual harassment and misconduct are concerned) and the whole image just becomes too blatant to overlook.

Monday, 18 February, 2008  

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