Watson Advising director reflects on why more young women choose engineering and computer science

Binghamton University

While men still largely dominate the fields of engineering and computer science, things are moving in the right direction. Research from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) found a nearly 60% increase in bachelor’s degrees in those fields awarded to women from 2012 to 2017.

Sharon Santobuono ’94, MA ’95, director of the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science Advising Office, has noticed this shift firsthand. Working directly with students to determine career paths, Santobuono reflects on why she believes more women are pursuing careers in engineering and computer science.

What do you think is driving this trend?

There is more exposure to these careers in middle and high school now due to STEM programs like Girls Who Code, and it’s made younger women realize that engineering isn’t just for men. They are taking advantage of these programs and are being mentored by college students and professors. I also think there is more exposure than ever before due to summer programs, social media and news coverage. It’s not just a man’s world anymore.

What changes have happened that make it easier for women to pursue engineering and computer science careers?

Young women are becoming more confident in their career choices and aren’t afraid to seek roles dominated by men. They are seeing more women working in engineering jobs and in faculty roles, and that’s important. We’ve seen more women in teaching roles right here in Watson College, and that has helped enormously. Having excel- lent role models while in college is essential to building confidence in a career path.

We also encourage students to take advantage of University clubs and organizations like the Society of Women Engineers, and to engage in research and internship opportunities with women role models.

What impact do you think Watson Advising had on the careers of students who are now alumni?

We encourage them to be true to themselves, and we certainly help them stay on track along the way. We encourage students to seek internships and speak with counselors from Watson Career and Alumni Connections, upperclassmen and, most importantly, faculty advisors.

I think we have a positive impact while they are students, and many come back to tell us so. We are always interested in what paths our alumni go on to take and where they are working. And we will always be proud of them!

Do undergraduate students typically have a strong sense of what career they want to pursue?

Many first-year students are trying to find where they best fit. That’s why it’s important that they have a program to investigate majors and poten- tial careers that are related to their interests. Juniors and seniors are often pursuing intern- ships to get a better idea of what is involved in different fields, and it’s not uncommon for them to change majors after they do internships.

I remind students to keep an open mind. The major they thought they wanted isn’t always the major they graduate with – and that’s OK! Not knowing is sometimes better because it leaves them open to all kinds of opportunities.

What advice would you give to women looking to pursue engineering careers?

Go for it! There are problems to be solved every- where you look. Find your niche, do what makes you happy, and remember that you are intelligent and you can do anything you set your mind to. The landscape is changing, so be a part of it!

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