11 Sep 2017

Record number of women enrol in engineering

8:16 pm on 11 September 2017

Record numbers of women are enrolling in engineering degrees.

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Photo: 123rf

Universities say the discipline isn't just about buildings and bridges, but the environment and health care, a message that's attracting more and more female students.

Dean of Engineering at Auckland University Nic Smith said the number of women studying undergraduate engineering had nearly doubled in the last nine years, from about 470 in 2008 to 900 this year.

Professor Smith said a lot were interested in careers that helped people and new courses, such as biomedical engineering, offered that.

"What those [new] fields are a little more focused on what the impact that technology has," he said.

"What we see among our female engineers is that interest in the difference that they're making and engineering technology has an enormous power to make a huge difference."

Auckland University aims to have women make up a third of its engineering students in the next three years, rising to 40 percent within the next decade.

But Philippa Martin, the associate dean for postgraduate engineering at Canterbury University, said putting a target on the number of female students seemed clinical.

"Our approach is much more about allowing women to have the opportunity and possibility of doing engineering rather than satisfying a number on a spreadsheet," she said.

Professor Martin credited more female role models for boosting the number of women studying engineering at Canterbury University to record levels.

First year female enrolments have also nearly doubled in the last 10 years to just over 210 last year.

Both universities have dedicated organisations that support female engineers.

Professor Smith and Professor Martin also say getting girls interested at a young age was key and there had been a range of coding, robotics and science programmes for girls spring up in the last few years.

For Robyn Thorpe, 11, from New Plymouth, it was after going to GirlGuiding NZ's Wicked Science Discovery Camp, an engineering program for girls across the country, that inspired her to consider a path in engineering.

"I thought it was great, I learnt that engineering isn't just building bridges and roads and it was actually [solving] world problems," she said.

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