Women comprise a greater percentage of this year's class of freshman engineers at the University of Colorado than they have in the past, and college officials are touting this class as the most diverse and qualified yet.
Women make up about 40.4 percent of this year's freshman class in the CU College of Engineering and Applied Science, and students who are racial or ethnic minorities make up about 34 percent, according to data provided by the university.
This class, college officials said, is moving toward the goal set last year to have women comprise 50 percent of the total undergraduate population of the engineering college by 2022. This year's total undergraduate population in the college is 28 percent women, up from 26 percent last year.
"We haven't met our goals, but we're doing well, and you can feel it," Dean Bobby Braun said. "When you walk into our lobby here in the Engineering Center, it feels different than at other engineering institutions that I've worked, for example."
When Braun took the helm of the college in 2017, he set out to outline a strategic vision in coordination with faculty, staff and students and in response to a survey of the college's working climate. Although the majority of faculty and staff respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their work was valued, the survey suggested "concerns about the racial and gender climate," according to an executive summary of the 2017 survey. Last July, the college released the vision document with a set of goals and metrics, including those focused on increasing women's enrollment. Braun hopes CU will be the first public educational institution to achieve gender equity in its undergraduate population, he said.
The National Center for Women and Information Technology, which is based in Boulder, focuses on helping organizations "recruit, retain and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers by providing support, evidence and action."
Adriane Bradberry, the center's communications director, said in an email that institutions must broaden their focus when looking to increase women's participation.
"While we recognize the power of encouragement and engaging opportunities for students, we also insist that institutions like CU take a strategic, sustainable approach for attracting and retaining women that focuses on revising educational systems for an inclusive experience for all students, as opposed to changing the students to fit these systems," Bradberry wrote.
Braun pointed to a number of initiatives within the college designed to support and encourage students, including women. The college's Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity, or BOLD, Center, which aims to create a supportive environment for a diverse community, will celebrate its 10th anniversary later this year, for example.
Through the BOLD Center, the college provides scholarships; hosts student-run societies; and offers tutoring, faculty and student mentoring and other programming, said Sarah Miller, the college's assistant dean for inclusive excellence.
Braun also pointed to partnerships like the one the college has with Ball Corp. The company, he said, has groups to support women and minority employees and suggested that its groups partner with similar groups at CU to provide mentor experiences, which they do now.
"We're constantly reaching out to talk to our industry partners to find out what they need in their workforce that we're providing," Braun said. "They also reach into campus."
The college also partners with other university offices, such as the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance and the International Students and Scholar Services, to provide training and forums, he said, adding that the college has worked with the National Center for Women and Information Technology, too.
Braun and other college officials are monitoring all of the goals outlined in the strategic vision, including 35 measurable metrics, and Braun plans to provide a progress update to the college every two years. The college will administer a survey every other year to monitor whether the working climate is improving or not, too.
He also is planning to do two-year circuits of the state to reach out to communities and provide more information to prospective students about the college and engineering more broadly. Last year, he visited communities in the western and southern parts of the state. Sept 10-14, he and other college officials will visit Calhan, Lamar, Yuma, Julesburg, Sterling, Greeley and Fort Collins, including portions of the tour in coordination with Colorado State University.
"More engineers in the state of Colorado is a good thing," Braun said, "whether they come from CU Boulder, CSU or any of the institutions across the state. It's probably a good thing for our state."
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org