Emily Sarver, for example, recently hired to work in mining and minerals engineering, initiated the student chapter of Women in Mining at Tech in 2003. The organization, made up of approximately 25 women, focuses on outreach. Women in Mining presents lessons about minerals to elementary and middle school classes, and participates in social activities.
Schmittmann and the physics department are working to include more females with a similar initiative. The department’s organization, the Ladies of Robeson, acts as a support group. The Ladies of Robeson meet several times a semester to network within the department.
“The climate is very supportive,” Schmittmann said.
Schmittmann is working to combat the “dire shortage” of physics teachers in the state of Virginia by writing a proposal to increase the number of physics teachers in the country. She is also part of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, an organization that sets aside funding to train physics teachers.
In order to combat this issue, Midkiff believes that students must be targeted during middle school.
“Around middle school, math becomes less interesting to girls,” Midkiff said.
Midkiff views the United States’ education system as a cause of fewer female and minority engineers. According to Midkiff, China and India have a “fairly high” percentage of female engineers. The percentage of female engineers in France is approaching 50 percent, according to Midkiff.
“Part of it is the education system, the other part is that (engineering) is viewed as an economic opportunity (for women),” Midkiff said.
Susan Arnold-Christian, assistant director for CEED, believes the lack of diversity in engineering is caused, in part, by pre-college instructor education.
“We’re producing teachers in classrooms who don’t know what engineering is,” Arnold-Christian said.
CEED has made some of the largest steps on the Tech campus to combat these issues and increase diversity in STEM majors. The CEED office targets high school and college-aged students, with a special emphasis on minority groups.
The Pre-College Initiative is designed as a weekend visit on the Tech campus, specifically for African-American high school students. Another program, Computers and Technology at Tech, is a two-week summer camp created for high school-aged girls.
CEED also offers a five-week summer program with a rigorous academic course load to all incoming engineering students.
Along with these pre-college programs, CEED offers a variety of freshman mentoring programs specifically for Hispanics, African-Americans and females, as well as a theme housing option designed for female engineers exclusively, Hypatia.
“These programs are designed from the perspective that women are attracted to engineering because they can make a difference,” Watford said.
There are approximately 800 students currently enrolled in programs offered by the CEED office, not just women or minority students, Watford said.
“We do things that will target (women and minorities), but is open to everybody,” Arnold-Christian said.
The office recently received the Claire L. Felbinger Award for Diversity given to educational units, individuals, associations and firms that have achieved success in diversity.
Finally, the Council for the Advancement of Minority Engineering Organizations is an umbrella organization for many other groups at Tech. Within CAMEO is the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the Association of Women in Computing and the Society of Women Engineers.
Branham found her place in computer science, made close friends and decided to go to graduate school through AWC after joining her junior year.
“I didn’t even realize the odds were against me until my junior year,” Branham said.
Many women never realize the barriers that stand in their way, Branham said.
Tech instated a university-wide initiative for improving diversity almost two decades ago, according to Lewis.
“The institution made a commitment to not only recruit, but retain and graduate underrepresented minorities and women,” Lewis said.