In the 1980s, only 6 percent of engineers in the U.S. were women.

The number of female engineers in the industry has more than doubled since then, but there is still more that needs to be done to attract and retain women in the engineering field.

“Increasing the number of women in engineering is a national imperative,” said Julia Ross, the first female dean of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. “I am working to set an example for the next generation of female engineers to pursue passions and break down barriers that prevent young women from aspiring to be engineers.”

At Virginia Tech, women make up 22 percent of the engineering undergraduate student body. The percentage is slowly increasing thanks to targeted recruitment efforts implemented by the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). The goal of the Women’s Preview Weekend, initiated by Bev Watford, the director of CEED, is to increase the yield of women offered admission to the College of Engineering. The preview gives young women a positive experience on campus and access to upper-class engineering women for mentoring before beginning their freshman year.

“The Women’s Preview Weekend gives the young women a sense of connection and an immediate support system to help with the demanding academics and lets them know they are not alone,” said Watford, also the associate dean of academic affairs for the College of Engineering.

The program not only attracts women to the College of Engineering, it gives them a glimpse into life in a living-learning community that will support them until graduation, such as Hypatia a community that brings together first-year engineering students in a residential environment to provide encouragement and support.

“Living in Hypatia is a great way to make friends, get help with homework, and also gives you a sense of community. It is home,” said Kayla Bonish, a junior majoring in construction engineering management. “It has given me the power to make my voice heard and empowers me to feel I can accomplish anything.”

According to Watford, the graduation rate for women who live in Hypatia is approximately 85 percent, nearly 15 percent higher than that of the general engineering population.

“Women’s Preview Weekend is so important to not only attract female engineers to Virginia Tech and Hypatia, but to retain and provide support to these amazing young women,” said Watford.  “There is no cost to the women who participate and that is why we need support -- to continue to give potential female engineering students this opportunity.”

The weekend schedule typically includes a tour of Lane Stadium, dinner with engineering faculty and graduate students, InVenTs lab activity, mini Gobbler Fest, multiple lab tours, and one-on-one time with their engineering host.

“Women are needed for engineering to fuel creativity and expand the perspectives that are used to solve problems,” said Bonish. “Attending Women’s Preview Weekend made me realize how important women in engineering are … I want my future daughters, nieces, and even great granddaughters to experience a world in which they will never second-guess their dreams because they are the 22 percent. Women’s Preview Weekend changed my life forever. I want more women to experience the wonderful world of engineering.”

The Women’s Preview Weekend crowdfunding campaign will run through Nov. 1, 2017. Please visit the crowdfunding page to support the program.

Written by Kristy Morrill

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