WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — Purdue University’s College of Engineering has reported a nearly 31-percent increase in enrollment of first-year women for 2011-2012 compared to a year earlier. The college has 460 first-year women this fall, up from 352 a year ago. Beth Holloway, director of the college’s Women in Engineering Program (WIEP), said that’s the highest number ever for first-year women in engineering. Women account for 26.1 percent of the first-year engineering class, compared to 20.6 percent in 2010.

The 1,534 total of women undergraduates in engineering also is the highest ever, Holloway said, up from 1,430 in 2010-11. She said that number has been growing steadily since 2005-06.

"Having more women in engineering will enrich the profession," Holloway said. "It’s also a profession that offers women the chance to make the world a better place."

While there is no definitive proof that any one strategy has led to the increase, Holloway said one factor likely is a change in how Purdue faculty, staff and students talk about engineering.

"We used a National Academy of Engineering report called ‘Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering.’ It has helped us talk to students, especially young women in high school, in a way that makes engineering more appealing and engaging," she said.

The 2008 report — which Leah Jamieson, Purdue’s John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering at Purdue, helped write — urged the engineering community to figure out how to talk about engineering careers in a way that interests young people from all backgrounds by appealing to their desire to find solutions to problems that can make a difference in the world and improve people’s lives.

"Specifically, when we are talking to younger students about engineering careers, we emphasize five points," Holloway said. "They are that the work is enjoyable, that it’s done in a good working environment, that it is work that makes a difference, that it provides a good income and that it offers flexibility. These are important elements for everyone, and really hit home with young women."

Holloway said the recent addition of the Armstrong Hall Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory for first-year engineering students also has been a draw.

"We make sure that our recruiting programs spend some time in this innovative space so potential students can get an idea of how collaborative the work is during their first year," she said.

Holloway also said the Women in Engineering Program has had an impact. The program, which was started in 1969, has grown from concentrating on students on campus to working with high school students to now also offering programs that reach down to kindergarten through sixth grade.

Although all of the WIEP outreach programs are open to boys and girls, the professional engineers, staff and college students working on them are mostly women. "It’s important for both girls and boys to see female role models in engineering," Holloway said.

WIEP will host a fall open house for K-6 students and their families from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday (Nov. 5). It will offer exhibits and hands-on activities that will showcase WIEP’s afterschool program.

WIEP also hosts a day-on-campus for high school students and their parents in the fall and spring, plus residential camps in the summer.

Current women engineering students also call all admitted women to talk about Purdue engineering and encourage them to register. "There is a high correlation between those who are called and those who enroll at Purdue," Holloway said.

Holloway said having more women engineering students will help Purdue continue to build on the increase. "Nobody sells Purdue engineering to young women better than our women engineering students."

More information on the Women in Engineering Program and its outreach activities can be found at https://engineering.purdue.edu/WIEP/