OSU recruits women and minorities for engineering


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has launched a new program to encourage and inspire more women and minority students to pursue careers in engineering, and to help retain these students in engineering once they enroll at the university.

"Women make up only eight percent of the engineering workforce nationwide," said Ellen Momsen, a veteran high school physics teacher the college recently hired to direct the new Women and Minorities Program. "Historically, young women have not been encouraged to pursue careers in engineering, yet engineering can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding. We're very committed to bringing more woman and minorities to OSU to become tomorrow's engineers."

Another challenge that the college faces is that as much as 60 percent of the women and minorities who begin studying engineering change fields within their first two quarters at the university.

"That's why we're revitalizing the freshman and sophomore curriculum, making it more hands-on and inspiring," said Momsen, who last year was one of only six physics teachers in the nation selected to participate in year-long residencies at six universities, including Oregon State. "We need to change the teaching methods so that the earliest courses are very engaging and exciting."

The new program, which is funded in-part by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, has also established a mentoring program so that first-year students have an immediate peer support system provided by older students.

"As soon as new students arrive on campus, we're connecting them with older students who know the ropes and will mentor them during that critical first year," Momsen said.

The percentage of women enrolled at U.S. engineering schools averages only 18 percent, but Momsen hopes to raise that number at Oregon State by letting potential students know that job prospects for engineers are excellent - especially for woman and minorities - and by exposing students to good role models, including industry leaders.

"Young women and minorities have very few role models in the field of engineering," Momsen said. "We want to connect them at an early age with people they can relate to who have become successful engineers, to illustrate in a very real way what's possible in an engineering career."

The new program will provide outreach to K-12 students, as well as to math and science teachers, Momsen says.

For more information, visit the OSU College of Engineering at http://engr.oregonstate.edu.