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Attracting the purpose-driven engineer

Attracting the purpose-driven engineer

by SHANNON CONERTY, for BuiltWorlds | April 7, 2015

According to Engineering by the Numbers, a recent study by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), out of all the engineering bachelor degrees awarded by U.S. institutions in 2013, only 19.1% went to women. The same research notes that in 2013, there were 108,415 females enrolled in undergraduate engineering studies, but only 17,868 received a bachelor’s degree in those pursuits. 

Even though those numbers have been creeping upward since 2008, there is still an obvious shortage of U.S. women in engineering. The persistent shortfall has spawned many creative efforts to target girls at a younger age with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) access that is more attractive to them. The hope that STEM seeds will lead to STEM degrees has inspired startups like GoldieBlox, which markets beyond stereotypes to position its female customers as problem solvers. The products are a great recruiting tool, but they come with an age limit (8 yrs old!).

Morman: Engineering has a higher purpose already built in.

Morman: Engineering has a higher purpose already built in.

So, what happens when that little girl grows up, attends her first college engineering course, and finds that she is one of just three girls in a 50-person lecture? What is going to keep her on the path to an engineering degree, for instance, when she realizes she would be the only female electrical engineer in her entire graduating class? 

Louise M. Morman thinks she may have the answer. And it starts with how girls are hard-wired.

“The female brain is much better at connecting across the whole brain and looking at things holistically,” says Morman, executive director of the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute in the College of Engineering & Computing at Miami University in Oxford OH. “I don’t think we have done a good enough job describing how engineering makes a difference in the world.”

Morman, herself, graduated from Miami in 1975 with a degree in Systems Analysis, combining computer science and mathematical modeling. After a long and successful career as a senior management executive for multiple energy firms, she is now back at her alma mater, working to have an impact on the next generation, especially young women. 

Engineering graduates last spring at Miami University in Oxford, OH, celebrate the ceremonial 'turning of the tassel'. 

Engineering graduates last spring at Miami University in Oxford, OH, celebrate the ceremonial 'turning of the tassel'. 

Morman recalls that when she was a student, she did not study computer science and mathematics just to work with computers. She chose the field because she knew it was important, and that it was going to have an impact on everyone. Even then, Morman understood that whatever she could accomplish and create within her specialty would reach beyond her lab, and benefit more people than she could ever hope to reach on her own. 

This whole world is a different place because of engineering.
— Louise Morman

“We forget to communicate that this whole world is a different place because of engineering,” she says, noting that engineering's positive impact goes way beyond the stereotypes placed upon it. 

Morman points to the 3D printer as an example. The idea of owning one might not be exciting to young women, she concedes, but the fact that they could use the printer to help solve actual problems changes their perception of the product as a useful tool. It's a light-bulb moment, when they realize this. “You can do things that affect the world,” explains Morman. “It’s not just games.”

No time for games 

If women are going to enter into the engineering field and stay with it through college and beyond, then they have to know there is a purpose behind it, Morman contends. They need to know and to believe that engineering creates better lives. Women need to know that engineering is impactful, effective, and necessary for making the world a better place.  

There is more to engineering than meets the eye – especially the eyes of women. The problem is not just getting young girls interested in STEM subjects, but finding a way to keep that passion lit through college and beyond. 


A third-year student at Miami of Ohio, the author is majoring in professional writing. To date, her course load has included classes in Digital Writing & Rhetorics, and Humanities & Technology. Conerty also serves as a student aid at the university library, where she troubleshoots patron's technical problems. E-mail:

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