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Women in Engineering at
Smith College

Written, produced and edited by
Kelli Gavant '04 and Hilary Moore '04

Featured Audio Broadcast


Nearly 50 years ago, Sarah Gorelick Ratley, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Denver University in mathematics with minors in physics and chemistry, worked as an engineering assistant at AT&T, while several of her male co-workers, who lacked college education, worked as engineers.
 

Smith College 2004 Class of Engineers (Photo courtesy Smith College)


“ At the time, there weren’t any women who were full-fledged engineers,” Ratley said. “It was all men . . .Women were not thought to really have a career. You get married, and you quit.”

In college, she was the only woman in her engineering courses and she is excited to see the progress women have made in engineering since she first joined the workforce.

Still, the figures haven’t changed much, and neither has engineering education’s approach. Only one percent of college graduates today are women who have studied engineering.

Smith College’s new Picker Engineering Program, the first of its kind at any of the nation’s women’s colleges, is challenging both of these issues and is trying to integrate engineering into the liberal arts context. On May 16, 2004, Smith graduated its first class of 20 women.

“ We want the program at Smith to be noted for the same quantitative rigor for which MIT is known but at the same time we want our students and our program to be known for the fusion of nature and the human spirit,” said Domenico Grasso, program director and Rosemary Bradford Hewlett ’40 Professor of Engineering, addressing Smith students and faculty at Convocation for the 2003-2004 school year.

Women have not been drawn to engineering because of its image as a field lacking social relevance, noted William Wepfer, former Associate Chair of Graduate Studies at the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering School at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In contrast, observed, women are well represented in the life sciences.

Graduates of Smith's Picker Engineering Program were accepted into graduate programs such as Cornell, Princeton, University of California, Berkeley, and Dartmouth. Several will be entering industry.

 

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This page is created by Mallika Aryal '05, Natalia Stefanova '05 and Eleanor S. Choo '06. Last modified on September 22, 2004 .