Women University Leaders Outline Ways to Diversify Engineering Workforce

A group of women college presidents and engineering deans say the passage of the CHIPS Act should move institutions to make engineering curricula accessible to all students.
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  • An all-women group of university presidents and engineering deans underscored the importance of a diverse engineering workforce in a recent open letter.
  • The university leaders said engaging historically underserved students, including women and people of color, will help to address the nationwide demand for skilled workers.
  • Federal and state funding will be important to help universities educate semiconductor and engineering students, according to the letter.

Women and people of color are key to cutting back on a workforce shortage in the engineering industry, an all-women group of university presidents and deans said in a recent open letter.

The letter's signatories said they are committed to helping grow the country's engineering workforce in the wake of the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act last year — and said making engineering curriculum accessible to historically underrepresented groups in higher education is a critical part of that commitment.

"A simple truth is that expanding this workforce will be impossible without bringing in more women and people of color," the letter reads.

The university leaders outline a five-pronged approach to diversifying the semiconductor and engineering workforce. That will include underscoring the importance of the semiconductor industry to society at large, connecting historically underserved students across universities via cohorts, working closely with employers and industry professionals to ensure engineering curricula are relevant, and modernizing educational facilities.

Universities also need to make engineering curricula more accessible for students, according to the letter.

"The traditional engineering curriculum too frequently has math and science classes that are divorced from reality and require background knowledge too many students have never gotten," the letter reads. "We need to make programming accessible to more students by refreshing curricula across higher education."

College presidents and deans who signed the letter include:

  • Olin College President Gilda Barabino (pictured above), who also serves as the chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science board of directors
  • Brown University President Christina Paxson and Dean of Engineering Tejal Desai
  • Dartmouth President-elect Sian Beilock and Dean of Engineering Alexis Abramson
  • Indiana University President Pam Whitten and Dean of Engineering Joanna Millunchick
  • University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf and Dean of Engineering Wendi Heinzelman
  • And University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor Carol Christ and Dean of Engineering Tsu-Jae King Liu

"This is personal for us," the letter reads. "We have often been the ‘first' women to occupy leadership roles, and frequently are still one of the few or only women in gatherings of industry leaders. We did not arrive at our positions on our own — it took mentorship, community, and, thankfully, amazing educators to help us get here."

Expanding and diversifying the semiconductor and engineering workforce will require funding and support from both federal and state governments, the letter reads. The letter notes that the cost of educating and graduating just one engineering Ph.D. student runs up to half a million dollars.

Major tech companies are investing billions in semiconductor manufacturing across the country after the passage of the CHIPS Act. BestColleges previously reported that Intel is constructing $20 billion semiconductor plants in central Ohio, with more than 12,000 new jobs coming to the region as part of that investment.