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Clockwise from top left: Electrical engineering major Christopher French; Afroditi V. Filippas, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate studies and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; electrical engineering majors Amanda Fauntleroy and Alexandra Kokich. Photo: Jacob Medley, staff photographer for the Commonwealth Times
Clockwise from top left: Electrical engineering major Christopher French; Afroditi V. Filippas, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate studies and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; electrical engineering majors Amanda Fauntleroy and Alexandra Kokich. Photo: Jacob Medley, staff photographer for the Commonwealth Times

More women are seeking STEM-related degrees at VCU, university says

By Saffeya Ahmed
Commonwealth Times


More women are seeking STEM program degrees at VCU, according to VCU News.

“We have excelled at recruiting women into all aspects of engineering,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Chair in Biomedical Engineering and dean of the VCU School of Engineering. “The number of women in STEM fields has been on a consistent growth curve since I joined VCU in 2013.”

VCU’s School of Engineering has seen spikes in recent academic years, consistent with national trends in women pursuing STEM related fields, with one third of the incoming enrolled students being women, said Boyan.

Computer science, electrical engineering and computer engineering had increased enrollment among women.

Boyan said these increases are largely attributed to the strong presence of female role models.

“Our students see women leaders and realize that they can become successful engineers as well,” Boyan said.

VCU President Michael Rao said he attributes increased female participation in STEM fields to quality outreach and the recruitment of highly skilled students and staff.

“I fully expect enrollment in the STEM field to continue to increase,” Rao said.

Despite these increases, there are still gaps within the STEM fields when it comes to female representation. Frank Gulla, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, said there are certain engineering disciplines that attract women over others. This explains the high number of women in biomedical engineering as well as chemical and life sciences engineering and the lack of in other departments.

Amanda Fauntleroy, a senior studying electrical engineering, said she’s noticed a spike in number of women enrolling in her major during her time at VCU.

Fauntleroy is working with two other students and her advisor to develop a tracking device to follow the flight patterns and general behaviors of birds, which will give her real-world experience through her senior design course.  

Fauntleroy is advocating for more women to be involved in STEM fields, especially engineering.

“There is a growth in the field that is becoming more natural,” Fauntleroy said. “It starts with elementary and middle school and how we work with kids there.”

Tanya Ravi, a freshman computer science student, said that advocating for more women to participate in STEM-related fields is a necessity.

“There is a lack of women in STEM fields because there is a lack of strong female role models,” Ravi said. “We are constantly clouded by the media’s capitalization of men in STEM careers and women are often overlooked.”

Engineering departments at VCU have seen increases in female participation across the board.

For the 2017-18 academic year, women hold the majority of seats in the biomedical engineering program.

The ratio runs 50/50 for chemical and life sciences, said Afroditi V. Filippas, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate studies and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

President Rao commented on the future of women involved in the fields.

“Increased participation by women in the STEM field reflects our changing world and is a response to what we desperately need — those interested in working toward discoveries that will improve the human condition,” Rao said.

Boyan also takes pride in her students and their initiative.

“The School of Engineering experience will help Virginia meet the demands of society by developing engineers who can excel in a multicultural environment,” Boyan said. “They will make it real.’”