Fewer women are studying sciences, but Ryerson bucks the trend

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By Seema Persaud

The percentage of females studying engineering is rising at Ryerson, the only university where that’s the case.

However, with the number hovering around 16 per cent, the George Vari Centre for Computing and Engineering is still very much a man’s world.

“You always feel a little out of place, 90 per cent of your classmates carry a Y-chromosome,” said Sonja Seher, the VP of communications of the Ryerson Engineering Student Society, in an e-mail.

“Rarely, however, is there negative discrimination towards me because I’m a woman.” Ryerson has a Women in Engineering (WIE) group that works to encourage women to enter the field and to make sure they, like Seher, don’t face any harassment.

WIE liason Litifa Noor earned both her Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and her Masters of Applied Science at Ryerson. She said women are not left to feel out of place and that, compared to other universities, Ryerson does a lot to promote women in engineering.

“Your classmates and professors are very supportive (of females in engineering),” Noor said.

High schools — not universities— are to blame for the low number of women studying at Ryerson, said Stalin Boctor, Dean of Engineering and Applied Science. Since 1991, Ryerson has offered workshops and outreach programs, through high schools and Girl Guides, encourage girls to take up the trade, Boctor said.

Cristina Amon, Dean of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto, is the only one of two women to head up an engineering school in Canada. She was brought in this summer after the percentage of women in engineering at the University of Toronto dropped from 22 per cent in 2000 to 17 per cent in 2004, according to the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers.

“Women bring life experiences and perspectives that should be considered, particularly in a profession like engineering that influenes so many sectors — from health and the environment, to information technology and transportation,” Amon said.

There is motivation for the outnumbered women. According to the Ontario University Application Centre, engineering graduates in 2001 earned an average starting salary of $51,450. Those who graduated with an degree in the humanities earned just $32,249.

While the number of total engineering degrees awarded dropped from 415 in 2003 to 350 in 2004, the number of female graduates remained constant — 57 in 2003, 54 the next year.

Once they do graduate, they earn more than their sisters studying the arts. That should be incentive enough.

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