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Anonymous gift used to launch Women in Engineering Center

Kate Trauth and Jayme Gardner organize pizza boxes.

Center Director and civil engineering Professor Kate Trauth and Women in Engineering programs coordinator Jayme Gardner organize boxes of pizza for the center’s first event, which included a casual dinner with students in Gillett and Hudson Halls. Photo by Shelby Kardell

Key traits of successful engineers are the abilities to logically analyze complex problems and creatively innovate solutions. These are not gender-specific character traits, yet men dominate the engineering profession.

Statistics gathered by the Engineering Workforce Commission show that nationwide, 18.6 percent of engineering bachelor’s degrees went to women in 2012. Women currently comprise 17.3 percent of the MU College of Engineering’s undergraduate enrollment.

Speculation on sources for the disparity runs from the failure of parents and guidance counselors to present engineering as an engaging and rewarding career to young women in middle and high school, to the attitudes of male colleagues in classrooms and the workplace toward the women they work with.

Choosing to directly address these issues at MU, an anonymous alumna has made a generous gift to the College to explore options to attract more young women to the profession and to encourage and help those who come to MU to study to shape their success as engineers.

On Feb. 3, 2015, the College of Engineering will host an open house to introduce its new Women in Engineering Center. Professor Kate Trauth, from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, serves as center director, and Jayme Gardener has been hired as its programs coordinator. Gardner is a 2013 graduate of the MU School of Journalism and graduates in May with her master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis.

Jayme Gardner talking to students.

Women in Engineering program coordinator Jayme Gardner talks to students in Gillett and Hudson Halls. Photo by Shelby Kardell

“I will be responsible for planning and implementing strategies to recruit, retain and build a community of women in the College of Engineering,” Gardner said of her role.

Center Director Trauth has worked in support Mizzou’s women engineering students since 2006 when she became the faculty adviser for the College’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). The chapter has offered a regular program of science in area middle schools for a number of years.

Under Trauth’s leadership, the Ada Wilson Women in Engineering Lecture was added to SWE’s Engineers’ Week celebration, which includes recognition of the organization’s graduating seniors. Among other efforts, the organization sponsors a Mother and Daughter Engineering Day and a Girl Scout Day. Both events, and the middle school program, shine a bright light on the engineering profession and also introduce the idea that girls can be engineers.

“We are interested in welcoming women students and providing an environment of support for their success, and not necessarily just academic success,” Trauth said.

Beyond initial efforts, which, Gardner said, includes reaching out to every woman who comes in the door, she and Trauth are inviting input and involvement from the entire College and reaching out to alumni to identify issues and begin to devise strategies to address them. The open house will serve to both introduce the new Center to MU Engineering’s students, faculty and staff and the MU campus, and to begin to recruit members for an advisory board, as well as other volunteers.

“We are pleased to be able to launch this effort in the MU College of Engineering and grateful to the anonymous donor who made it possible,” said engineering Dean Bob Schwartz. “It is important for engineering colleges and the engineering profession overall to reach out to women. Engineering is an occupation that relies on teamwork. Diverse perspectives and varied ideas encourage more dynamic and innovative solutions. Supporting women in engineering benefits all of us.”

Gardner, who said she is the “odd one out” in a family with STEM careers, is teeming with energy and ideas.

“I have been involved in the social justice community at MU,” she said. “Women and gender studies has been a passion of mine since I started here.”

Two women studying at a table on a laptop.

Women engineering students also took time to study while meeting with representatives from the new Women in Engineering Center. Photo by Shelby Kardell

The Center also will work closely with existing women’s initiatives such as the College’s Mizzou Women Mentoring Women program, and the College’s chapter of the international Alpha Omega Epsilon sorority for women in engineering.

MWMW was initiated by SWE and reorganized in 2012 as an independent program run by women engineering students. Heather Hunt, assistant professor of bioengineering, serves as the organization’s faculty adviser.

“I am so excited about the Women in Engineering Center because it will help bring together all of our wonderful programs, student organizations and institutional activities under one umbrella, which will help us serve our students better and use our resources more efficiently,” said Hunt. “We hope that the activities the center pursues will create opportunities for students to increase their resiliency, and will aid in the recruitment and retention of women in engineering.”

The Beta Zeta chapter of AOE was student-launched in 2012 and the mix of professional and social aspects and the connections it provides for women engineering students have contributed to its early success. Faculty adviser Sheila Grant, professor of bioengineering, said the Center is extremely important for both the College and the University.

“It is so very exciting that we as a college are making an effort to encourage and support our women engineering students,” Grant said.