OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

“Red Chair” campus event to recognize women in technology

02/28/2013

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University will participate in a national campaign called Sit With Me on March 5 in the Memorial Union quad, to recognize the role of women in creating new technology.

The campaign, which was created by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, works to build awareness of the obstacles that women continue to face in the fields of computing and information technology. The OSU Office of Women and Minorities in Engineering is broadening the activity to include all fields of engineering.

For participants, a signature part of the event is sitting in a red chair, a symbol of solidarity with the goals of the campaign, and discussing their personal life stories. Organizers say they encourage dialogue to continue online and in other forums.

At OSU, the event will include music, prizes, and a photo booth featuring the campaign’s red chair. Photos will be collected and displayed of prominent Oregon State administrators, athletic teams and alumni sitting in the red chair.

Although the numbers of women seeking engineering degrees has been rising, it’s still far from an equitable status. About 18 percent of engineering undergraduates, both nationally and at OSU, are women. Only 13 percent of computer science graduates are female, another report indicated.

“The companies really like their design teams to reflect what America looks like – 50 percent women and 24 percent minority groups,” said Ellen Momsen, director of the OSU Women and Minorities in Engineering program. “We’re certainly not graduating that nationally in engineering.”

OSU has a wide variety of programs both to recruit and retain more women who enter the College of Engineering, she said. Several high level administrators in the college, including Dean Sandra Woods, are women. The university also sends its engineering students as “ambassadors” to talk to high school students around Oregon about engineering and their OSU experiences.

“We find a barrier is the lack of familiarity with the engineering field,” Momsen said. “Many students believe the Dilbert stereotype, and imagine that an engineer is dull and sits in a cubicle all day.

“Our goal is to let students know that engineering is a creative profession,” she said. “The careers they are interested in are actually engineering related, such as creating movie special effects, providing safe drinking water, developing life-saving medical devices.”