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April 20, 2004

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 Program

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 offers.

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 that future."

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 construction management.

Corporations, eager for innovative ideas and a diverse employment base, have been quick to demonstrate their support for the Smith program.

"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 chosen fields.

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 women.

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 societal costs."

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 aircraft.

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 Company.

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 accredited.

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

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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