Girls, minorities find home in SEAS

The joy of amusement parks – from devouring bright pink cotton candy to winning the biggest teddy bear – always meant a little more for Jeryn Koritzinsky. Especially the thrill of roller coasters.

The looming mechanical structures, the clicking gears and the carts suspended mid-air intrigued Koritzinsky at the age of five and, ever since, she has wanted to be an engineer.

Koritzinsky will graduate this May from the School of Engineering and Applied Science with a degree in mechanical engineering. At her graduation ceremony she will be one of many female engineering students in the crowd, but when she enters the work force, only 7 percent of her colleagues will be female.

According to The Office of Institutional Research, in the past decade the University drew a significant numbers of female and minority-group students to the engineering school, far more than the national average.

Nearly 34 percent of GW undergraduate engineering students are female, and 29 percent of the students are minorities – students of African-American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian backgrounds – for the 2009-2010 year.

These numbers demonstrate an upward trend in the percentage of female and minority students in SEAS over the past five years, according to University data. The female population increased by more than 4 percent since the 2004-2005 school year, and the minority population increased by 6 percent since that same year.

According to the National Action Council of Minorities in Engineering, minorities earn fewer than 12 percent of engineering degrees nationally and data from the National Science Foundation says about 11 percent of engineers are women.

While GW’s statistics are high and GW is above the national average for colleges, the school is working to improve its rankings for women and minorities, said David Dolling, the school’s dean.

“According to the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) we are no longer in the top ten,” Dolling said in an e-mail, referring to the number of women in the school. “Nevertheless, we are proud of being above the national average.”

Dolling also said that in coming years he and the SEAS community “certainly want to do better” in improving these statistics.

Students interviewed said GW has already made changes to accommodate the women entering the field, including redesigning male bathrooms for female use in Tompkins Hall.

Matthew Knouse, this year’s Dean’s Fellow in SEAS, said when he gives tours of Tompkins Hall, he shows prospective students that “there is only one bathroom per floor because engineering was a man’s major. There was no need for two,” referring to when Tompkins Hall was built in 1956.

For Knouse, conversion of some of these to women’s restrooms indicates “how far we’ve come – little and big details alike.”

Shirley Penaloza, a senior pursuing a degree in civil engineering said SEAS’ representation is impressive.

“[My classes are] almost 50-50. That’s really impressive, because there aren’t a lot of women in engineering,” Penaloza said. “For it to be like this in our school shows that we are encouraging women to go into this field and the more women there are, the better and faster women can progress in this field.”

Koritzinsky said the school’s large female population was a factor in her choice of GW.

“SEAS does have one of the highest percentages in the nation of female to male students, which really impressed me,” she said. “A lot of the big schools have only 10 to 20 percent. It creates a different environment here.”

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