In recognition of the 40th anniversary of undergraduate women at Lehigh, President Alice P. Gast announced that the university has established a new $1 million endowed scholarship program to support women studying in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
At Lehigh today, one in four undergraduate engineering students are women, which exceeds the national average of 18.6 percent.
“Lehigh is a leader in educating female engineering students and this scholarship support will give us the opportunity to build on that leadership,” said Gast, an internationally renowned chemical engineer. “We want to send the message that Lehigh is a great place for young women to pursue science, mathematics and engineering. There is a national need for well-educated STEM graduates and it is important to increase the number of women going into these fields.”
Lehigh is part of a national effort to inspire future generations of women to pursue STEM academic and career opportunities. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, women comprise nearly half of the U.S. workforce, but just 24 percent of STEM workers. Women also hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.
“In order to create innovation we have to have diversity of thoughts. It is critical that more women pursue degrees in engineering,” said Sharon Kalafut, professor of practice in computer science and business and the faculty advisor for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “Imagine the advancements in engineering if the diversity of ideas by both females and males were brought together; that collaboration would play a key role in shaping the engineering industry. The STEM scholarships will provide the funds necessary to advance women in science and engineering.”
Two female students from the incoming Class of 2016 will receive the first scholarships. The awards will provide support for tuition and research-related activities throughout their four years at Lehigh. Two additional scholarships will be awarded each year to incoming students enrolled in STEM fields.
“These scholarships will help us recruit women into these areas of vital need, and provide a source of talent going forward,” said J. Leon Washington, dean of admissions and financial aid.
The STEM scholarships are part of a larger effort by Lehigh to increase the ranks of women in academic science and engineering careers. The university was named one of seven recipients of a 2010 National Science Foundation ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant which allows the university to harness the strengths of interdisciplinary research and teaching to enhance recruitment, retention, and the advancement of women faculty in STEM fields.
In addition to these efforts, Lehigh’s female engineering students are actively involved in organizations such as SWE and Engineers without Borders. Students participate in projects such as a SWE trip to Africa to help provide mobile technology solutions that connect women in the bush to doctors, and Charting Horizons and Opportunities In Careers in Engineering and Sciences, or CHOICES, which promotes science, engineering and math among Lehigh Valley middle school girls.
“Women are motivated to pursue science and engineering when they understand the impact their work can have on the world,” said Gast. “Lehigh’s many opportunities for hands-on learning appeals to students.”