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EECS Report Looks at Female Enrollment

By Jennifer Lane
Staff Reporter

Women at MIT are about half as likely as men to major in electrical engineering and computer science, according to the final report of the EECS Women Undergraduate Enrollment Committee.

The report, released last month, assessed the enrollment of women in Course VI. The committee, chaired by Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Harold Abelson PhD '73, arrived at the results despite the fact that men and women major at roughly the same rate in the School of Engineering.

The pattern of proportionally low female enrollment in EECS is typical of other selective engineering schools, but considerably better than selective general universities, according to the report.

The 27 computer science degrees granted to women at MIT in 1991 equals the combined graduating classes of women in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stanford University, and Princeton University, which together graduated four times as many women overall as MIT, the report said.

The report also included the results of two surveys conducted last spring. One result of those surveys was that women, more so than men, feel that they have come to MIT "less prepared to major in EECS" than their peers.

Women feel lack of experience

Sixty-five percent of women versus 35 percent of men feel that they "had less prior computer experience compared to other MIT students," and 79 percent of women versus 53 percent of men feel that they "had less prior electrical engineering experience compared with other MIT students," the survey said.

All survey results reflect only students enrolled in the EECS core course subjects.

Women's beliefs that they have had less previous experience than their peers is particularly distressing, the report said: 47 percent of men and 52 percent of women agreed with the statement, "It is difficult to succeed in Course VI without having had previous EE or CS experience."

The results also showed that 73 percent of men and 68 percent of women agree with the statement, "Course VI is very competitive compared with other majors." Eighty-one percent of men and 84 percent of women agreed with the statement, "Course VI requires more work than other majors."

Myriad of recommendations

Measures recommended by the committee to attract more women to the department and prepare them for the coursework include telephoning and sending personal letters to women with EECS interests admitted to MIT; offering an Independent Activities Period introduction to the department; participating in the Academic Midway during Residence and Orientation Week; and considering offering versions of introductory subjects that include the fall term and IAP.

Other recommendations are aimed at making women feel more comfortable in the department. These include continuing the spring social which allows female EECS undergraduates to meet female EECS faculty and sponsoring a seminar series for undergraduates that features women in EECS-related industries.

The committee also recommended providing more support for female students seeking research projects, "bunching" women in recitation sections of the large classes to make a few recitation sections more balanced and to avoid isolating women, and making faculty members aware of Institute harassment policies.

The outlook for the future looks better, Abelson said. More women are entering the department and as they do, the problem will become less serious, he said.