You may have seen the Rube Goldberg inspired commercial for a new line of toys to motivate young girls to consider engineering. The commercial parodied the lyrics to a famous Beastie Boys’ song to “Girls to build the spaceship. Girls to code the new app. Girls to grow up knowing that they can engineer that." In UT’s Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, we are working hard to ensure we don’t miss out on the talent of half the population.

women in ase group photo

Only 13 percent of all U.S. aerospace engineering graduates were women in 2012. Very few professions report such a gender imbalance, and it's well below the 18.9 percent of women who received bachelor's degrees across all engineering disciplines last year. That is why the department started a scholarship program in 2010, funded entirely by alumni and corporate contributions, to increase female undergraduate enrollment.

Prior to this program, the percentage of women in the department was steadily declining and had reached a low of 11 percent. Since then the department has added a percentage point every year and now female enrollment stands at 13.3 percent. We are poised for even higher numbers in the future since the combined freshman and sophomore classes are 17 percent women. The Women in Aerospace program was shaped to counter feedback we received from women who were accepted into the department, but didn't come to UT. The number one reason cited for not attending was a lack of scholarship funding. That is changing with more than $56,000 in new scholarships awarded from 2011-2013 thanks to the generosity of alumni like Steve DeLeon '75 and companies like Millennium Engineering.

The first year scholarships were awarded to recruit entering freshman, but now retention is a focus as well. Scholarships follow the women who continue through the program. This year, there are juniors who have earned scholarships from Millennium Engineering and the opportunity to work in research labs alongside our faculty. Emergent Space Technologies is also supporting juniors and offering summer internships.

"My experience here in the aerospace school has been amazing! I've met my lifelong friends here while also gaining hands on experience in the aerospace field with my involvement in WIALD," said scholarship recipient Stephanie Uwagbai. "This department has taught me to work hard but to also always have fun. I hope to help younger students get involved with aerospace engineering too!"

In addition to the scholarships, there has been a real focus on personal outreach to female applicants. A group of alumni led by Stephanie Autrey Klein '03 are making calls and sending notes to encourage applicants to say yes to UT, and sharing their own experiences in aerospace engineering.

Then there is WIALD (pronounced "wild"), the Women in Aerospace for Leadership and Development student group, that focuses on recruiting and retaining women by making activities fun, exciting and ultimately valuable in achieving long-range career goals. Each year the WIALD women take on a new project to apply engineering fundamentals to real-world problems. In 2012, WIALD sent a balloon satellite to the edge of space and in 2011 they designed a rocket payloadlaunched by the U.S. Air Force. Through these leadership experiences, the WIALD women have quickly become some of the most recruited students on campus fielding multiple job offers.

"I can honestly say I wouldn't be at The University of Texas if it wasn't for the recruitment of the Aerospace department," said Nicole Pinto, ASE senior and WIALD president. "They were constantly reaching out to me, and it made a huge difference when I was choosing schools. Once enrolled, I found my niche in WIALD, which has provided me the confidence and capability to succeed in the ASE program. I don't think I would be graduating in May if I hadn't joined WIALD."

The combination of scholarships, alumni outreach and student support is making a real difference. We want to continue the momentum and need your help. Please consider making a gift online today for the Women in Aerospace Scholarships. If you are interested in volunteering or supporting WIALD, please contact Bliss Angerman at 512-232-7085.