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Presentations By Astronaut Bonnie Dunbar And Others Will Forefront The Need For More Women In The Engineering Pipeline

In the United States, some 350,000 engineering and computer science positions are currently unfilled. Of the engineers practicing today, only 9 percent are women.

"Taken together, these statistics point to a national crisis," says Domenico Grasso.

"The input and expertise of engineers is critical to nearly every aspect of our lives today, and yet we are not graduating the numbers of well-educated engineers that we need to properly position society for what the future holds," he adds.

Grasso, the chair of Smith College's new Picker Program in Engineering and Technology, is a driving force behind "Designing the Future," an intensive summit on engineering education intended to formulate potential solutions to this workforce shortage.

Over the course of two days -- Friday, March 30, and Saturday, March 31 -- some 150 engineering executives, corporate representatives, deans, faculty members and association representatives, as well as foundation directors and advocates for women in science, will gather at Smith to begin a dialogue on educational strategies for diversifying the engineering and technology workforce.

"Designing the Future" will begin at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 30, with an introduction by Smith President Ruth Simmons, followed by an exploratory discussion of the engineering crisis led by William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering. Panel members will be Elaine Seymour, director of ethnography and evaluation research at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Tom Engibous, CEO of Texas Instruments; John Slaughter, president of National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering; Nancy Lane, director of Cambridge University's Women in Science, Engineering and Technology program; and Thomas Magnanti, dean of engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Following a break, the conference will continue at 5 p.m. with a greeting from Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, followed by an address by astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, assistant director for university research and affairs at NASA. Dunbar has logged more than 50 days in space on five flights. She joined NASA in 1978 after playing a key role in developing the space shuttle's heat shield while employed with Rockwell International Space Division. She has received several NASA Space Flight Medals in addition to numerous other awards.

On Saturday, March 31, the conference will convene at 9 a.m. with an address, "Undergraduate Engineering and the Role of the Liberal Arts," by Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Jackson's talk will be followed by a response from panelists, including Susan Voss, an assistant professor with the Picker Program, and Rose Mary Farenden, global recruitment director at Ford Motor Company, who will discuss possible approaches to engineering education. Stephen Director, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan and chair of the Engineering Deans Council, will introduce Jackson's lecture and serve as moderator for the response.

The conference will culminate in an 11 a.m. session, "A Conversation About the Future of Engineering Education," with Grasso; George Peterson, executive director of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology; James Wei, dean of the School of Engineering at Princeton University; Kristina Johnson, dean of the School of Engineering at Duke University; and Joseph Goldstein, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Friday's sessions will take place in Wright Hall Auditorium. Saturday's sessions will take place in Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall. All sessions are free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible.

Established in February 1999, Smith College's Picker Program in Engineering and Technology is the first and only engineering program at a women's college. Its focus is on developing broadly educated, well-rounded engineers capable of assuming leadership roles in corporations, non-profit organizations and technology-related fields. The program's unprecedented linkage of engineering education and the liberal arts is designed to attract women not only strong in scientific and technical aptitude but also capable of exceptional creativity and humanistic understanding. The first class of engineering students entered Smith this fall and is expected to graduate in 2004. They will earn bachelor's degrees in engineering science, enabling them to pursue specialization in a range of technical fields.

"Designing the Future" is sponsored by Ford Motor Company; GE Fund; The Boeing Company; Cisco Systems, Inc.; Microsoft Corporation; Parsons Brinckerhoff; Pfizer, Inc.; and United Technologies Corporation.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's best liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States.

Contact: Laurie Fenlason,

March 19, 2001


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