Blazing A Trail For Women, Smith College
Prepares To Graduate The Country's First All-Female Class Of Engineers
Universities and Corporations Are Eager To Tap the Talents
of Diverse Group Educated in Innovative, Forward Looking
Editor's note: Group photos of the graduating engineering
majors, in cap and gown and in casual dress, are available
in hard copy and as digital files.
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Amid increasing calls to bolster the
nation's scientific literacy and enhance its high-tech workforce,
a pioneering and much watched engineering program is about
to produce its first graduates.
Despite the program's short history, the newly-minted engineers
-- all women -- are weighing significant career and fellowship
Established in 1999, Smith College's Picker Engineering
Program is the first and only engineering program at a U.S.
women's college. At graduation ceremonies on May 16, Smith
will make history when it awards the first engineering bachelor's
degrees ever offered at any of the nation's women's colleges.
"We are enormously proud of these young women and the
path they have blazed for those who will follow them," said
Smith President Carol T. Christ. "Technology and engineering
are critically important to our society's development, and
I am thrilled to know that Smith engineers will be shaping
The 20 graduating seniors, who come from 13 states and two
foreign countries, have spent their four years at Smith immersed
in a program that is noted for its quantitative rigor and
distinguished by the importance placed on study of the humanities
and social sciences. Domenico Grasso, Rosemary Bradford Hewlett
Professor and Director of the Picker Engineering Program,
characterizes it as a "vibrant intellectual crossroads
of the sciences and humanities."
With a focus on developing "broadly educated, well-rounded
engineers," Grasso says, Smith is poised to launch these
graduates into leadership roles in corporations, nonprofits
and other technology-related fields.
To date, the graduating students have been accepted into
engineering graduate programs at Harvard-MIT, Michigan, Dartmouth,
Cornell, Princeton, Berkeley and Notre Dame. Two have received
highly competitive National Science Foundation fellowships
for post-graduate study in engineering at any U.S. university.
Several have positions waiting for them at national firms
in fields ranging from information systems to finance to
Corporations, eager for innovative ideas and a diverse employment
base, have been quick to demonstrate their support for the
"The Smith approach to engineering is precisely what
the world needs today," said Hewlett-Packard Chairman
and CEO Carly Fiorina.
"There is no college that connects head to heart --
no college that teaches that science and technology must
be fused with a social conscience -- better than Smith College."
Fiorina encouraged the graduating students to make our world "not
just better off, but better."
Bill Ford, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company, predicted that "many
opportunities for firsts and leadership roles" await the students in their
Describing his company's goal as "building great products,
a strong business and a better world," he expressed
hope that the Smith students "would consider joining
us as engineers of this better world."
Thomas J. O'Neill, president and CEO of the worldwide engineering firm Parsons
Brinckerhoff, called the Smith program a pioneer.
"Our profession has entered a bold new world, and it
needs fresh approaches and open minds. Enter the Smith engineers.
An all-female class of engineering graduates at a premier
liberal arts college, trained to integrate the engineer's
practical outlook with the humanist's perspective, is something
we have not seen before," he observed.
William A. Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering,
saluted the program's emphasis on engineering answers that
enhance quality of life around the world.
"The problems faced by our society -- global sustainable
development being a good example -- demand creative, engineered
solutions. Innovative programs, such as Smith's, are critical
to that goal," Wulf said.
Despite the fact that women surpass men in college attendance,
only 20 percent of all undergraduate engineering majors are
Grasso, the program's director, said the philosophy of the
program is not merely to expand the engineering workforce
but to diversify its intellectual preparation.
"The problem is not simply that we don't have enough
white male engineers but also that white males already make
up 90 percent of practicing engineers," he explained. "This
lack of a diverse perspective at the design table has distinct
Leading corporations have endorsed the program's grounding
in the liberal arts, many stepping forward with support from
the beginning. Corporate advisors and supporters include
Bechtel, Ford Motor Company, GE, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lockheed
Martin, Lucent Technologies, MITRE Corporation, Motorola,
Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Boeing.
In addition to technical and financial support, these and
other firms and organizations created opportunities for the
engineering majors to collaborate on real-world design projects,
hold significant summer internships and even to conduct experiments
in zero gravity aboard a specially outfitted NASA research
Growth of the Picker Program has outpaced the college's
enrollment projections. The program now claims 135 majors
or intended majors. More than 150 students are now enrolled
in engineering courses. Grasso attributes the success to
several key factors: the commitment to social relevance and
social responsibility that pervades the curriculum, a faculty
that is 60 percent female (vs. 4 percent nationwide), and
a scale that permits individual attention and mentoring.
In a significant endorsement of the academic rigor of the
program, five leading engineering programs have entered into
direct enrollment agreements with Smith, enabling any Smith
engineering student with a grade point average of 3.5 or
above to automatically gain admission to selected engineering
graduate programs at Dartmouth College, the University of
Michigan, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins or Tufts universities.
To meet the demands of the growing program, Smith is raising
funds to build a $65-million engineering and molecular science
building to serve as the Picker Program's new home. The project
is supported by a $10-million leadership gift from Ford Motor
Next year, Smith will seek accreditation of the program
from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology,
or ABET. To be eligible, the college has to produce its first
class of graduates. Once the program receives accreditation,
engineering degrees for the 2004 graduates will be retroactively
The Picker Program is named for the late Jean Sovatkin Picker,
a 1942 Smith graduate and former United Nations official,
and her husband, Harvey Picker, a longtime Smith supporter
who established an endowment for the program.
More information about the Picker Engineering Program is
available at www.smith.edu/engin.
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's
foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students
from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest
undergraduate women's college in the country.
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