Female graduate enrollment reaches record high

By Teresa Riordan
June 21, 2007

The number of women enrolling in graduate school at Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science will reach a record 32 percent of students in the fall of 2007. By contrast, the nationwide average of women enrolled in graduate engineering hovers at around 20 percent.

“We have reached a critical mass of women graduate students and we expect that number will only grow in the future,” said Stephen Friedfeld, associate dean for graduate affairs at Princeton Engineering.

Friedfeld said that women engineers seem to find Princeton a particularly hospitable place for a number of reasons, citing student groups such as Graduate Women in Science and Engineering, the Graduate Engineering Council, and the Graduate Engineering Ambassadors.

“Women have provided a lot of leadership in our student groups and this prepares them for leadership roles they will take on when they finish their degrees,” Friedfeld said. Well-known Princeton Engineering graduate alumnae leaders include Leah Jamieson, dean of engineering at Purdue; Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University; and Linda Abriola, dean of engineering at Tufts University.

Princeton Engineering also boasts a number of high-profile women faculty members, including MacArthur “genius” grant winners Naomi Ehrich Leonard, who received her undergraduate degree in engineering from Princeton, and Claire Gmachl, director of the National Science Foundation-funded center for Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment at Princeton.

Last year women graduate engineers at Princeton inaugurated a well-attended multi-university conference on women in science and engineering that is likely to become a biannual event, said Friedfeld.

He noted that total applications for Princeton’s graduate school in engineering have been increasing steadily. “We have had increases in total applications for the past four successive years,” he said. “The numbers have really shot up.”

The total number of new graduate students enrolling this fall will be 132. Forty-two of them are women. Princeton is ranked among the top 20 universities nationally in numbers of women receiving doctorates in engineering.

Friedfeld said he wanted to encourage undergraduate math and science majors to consider Princeton Engineering’s Ph.D. program, which offers applied mathematics and science research ranging from control theory and statistical mechanics to computational biology. “Mathematics and science are terrific foundations for just about any type of engineering,” he said.

Princeton’s school of engineering also would like to encourage a diverse range of people, especially women and under-represented minorities, to apply to graduate school, according to Friedfeld.

“Sometimes students self-select out of applying because they are intimidated by our reputation,” he said. “Our graduate students are an elite group but they come from a wide variety of undergraduate programs, from state universities to small liberal arts colleges.”