Duke Engineering Chair Calls for Use of Title IX to Increase Number of Women Engineers

WASHINGTON -- Professor April Brown, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, urged a Senate committee Thursday to apply Title IX, the federal gender anti-discrimination law usually used in athletics, to encourage more women to become engineers and scientists.

"The resulting pool of scientists and engineers will be larger and more diverse, which means we as a nation will be better prepared for the technological challenges our future will bring," Brown said in testimony prepared for the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.

Brown said the number of women faculty members in science and engineering must be increased to boost the number of women engineers and scientists in the work force. Role models, she added, show young women that they, too, can become engineers and scientists. And she said women students seek out female faculty for advice and research guidance.

"Many women are lost along the way if they cannot identify and relate to a teacher for guidance toward a successful career," Brown said. Yet she said less than 10 percent of engineering faculty members are women and, in her field of electrical and computer engineering, which is the most rapidly growing engineering discipline, only 7 percent of the faculty are women.

Brown, who joined the Pratt School this year, holds a bachelor's degree from North Carolina State University and a master's and doctorate from Cornell University. Before moving to Duke, she was Joseph M. Pettit Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and executive assistant to the president at Georgia Tech.

Brown was invited to testify by subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about how Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 might be applied to increase the number of women engineers and scientists. She said that although Title IX requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to provide equitable athletic opportunities for all students, regardless of sex, it covers all educational programs receiving federal assistance.

"During the past 30 years, Title IX has created tremendous changes in athletics," Brown said in her prepared testimony. "Now is the time to use its power for engineering and sciences, with the hope that the results will be as dramatic.

"Universities must comply with Title IX to receive federal funding. The government can and should do more to ensure compliance in the specific area of educational opportunities for women in science and engineering. "First, since graduate programs across the nation are the primary training ground for the professoriate of the future, universities could be required under Title IX to create more institutional graduate support (scholarships) for women graduate students. Successful recruiting and retention of women in graduate school creates the new faculty members we need to attract more women undergraduates to science and engineering.

"Second, engineering programs can and should do more to ensure that their female faculty members -- and students -- have an equitable share of the resources provided by the institution. Title IX can be used to ensure that both financial aid and research support are equitably distributed among graduate students.

"Third, university leaders must be accountable for the work environment they steward. They can be held accountable under Title IX's provision of continuous improvement of the environment for women, and there are many approaches for doing that for both students and faculty members." For faculty, she said these include better work-family policies, including extending the period for faculty members to receive tenure, an important factor for women desiring to have children. "For students," she said, "these include supporting mentoring opportunities, such as Women in Engineering programs.

"Federal funding is critical to science and engineering, and we must ensure that women principal investigators are well represented in funding agencies' research and education portfolios."

Brown said she was drawn to engineering because her father was an engineer. She said she is the mother of two boys "that I hope will someday consider becoming engineers. She said she believes the changes she advocates "will benefit them as well as their female friends."