The Role of Mentoring in the Careers of Women Engineering Deans

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Despite tremendous gains over the past 30 years, women are still severely underrepresented in engineering and engineering education. In 2009, only 17.8% of the more than 74,000 engineering bachelor's degrees awarded in the United States went to women, down from 21.2% in 1999. Women are currently 12.7% of all engineering faculty, and only 7.7% of full professors in U.S. engineering schools (Gibbons 2010). According to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), 69 women had served as dean of engineering at one of the almost four hundred engineering or technology colleges in the United States and Canada that are institutional members of ASEE, and 38 women held that title in spring of 2010. Seven of the 50 largest engineering schools (in terms of bachelor's degrees awarded) are or have been led by women, and one of these institutions (Purdue) currently has its second female dean. The majority of female deans have assumed that role since the turn of the century, with several women appointed dean each year since 2005, and nine appointed in 2009. Of the 31 former deans, half have gone on to other academic leadership roles including provost, vice-president for research, chancellor, and president. Interviews with 21 women deans between 2002 and 2010 for profiles in the SWE Magazine explored their career paths, accomplishments, work/family issues, and leadership styles. This paper focuses on the role of mentors, professional society activities, and other leadership experiences in the career development of female engineering deans. Future leaders may benefit from the experience of these pioneering women.