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New Department Seeks to Build Female Enrollment

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While the majority of both students and faculty in engineering education are male, Dr. Yanna Liang began her role as chair of University at Albany’s environmental engineering department last Friday.

Comparing the different kinds of engineering departments, Liang acknowledged that there is a more equal number of men and women in environmental engineering than in any other type of engineering.

As a woman leading the new Department of Environmental and Sustainable Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Liang said, “If you have female faculty in the department, then the student will say, ‘Oh, she can do that. Maybe I can do that.’”

This echoes the aim that the college dean, Dr. Kim Boyer, has for incorporating environmental engineering early in the college’s development to attract more women.

The dean’s goal is to improve the college by incorporating programs that attract women in the early stages of adding new departments.

With environmental engineering attracting more women than any other type of engineering, Boyer said, “They’ll see the college has a good and reasonable representation of women among its students and faculty, and that will help improve that balance overall.”

However, Boyer emphasized that the college did not choose Liang because she was a woman, but rather because she was best qualified. The dean even noted that the final two candidates for chair of the new department were both women.

Tasked with developing the department, Liang is working to send out advertisements to hire five faculty by spring. At the same time, she will develop at least 120 credit hours to submit to the state so it can approve the program.

Liang is hoping to have courses ready for the bachelor’s degree in environmental and sustainable engineering by next fall.

Boyer also anticipates that it could take a year or 18 months for the program to get state approval, which is necessary before students can obtain degrees.

In her position, Liang is planning to do community outreach to make students aware of possibilities in engineering.

Plans for this include sending out faculty to local middle and high schools and to have students visit labs at the university. “It’s got to be a two-way communication,” Liang said.

Back when Liang was a student in China, she wasn’t sure which major she should pick. She heard from one of her teachers about environmental engineering, liked the aspect of protecting people and the environment, and decided to go into engineering.

Environmental engineering has the highest percent of women than any other type of engineering, with 45 percent being female, according to 2016 data provided by the nonprofit organization American Society for Engineering Education.

In the same report, ASEE indicated that just over 20 percent of engineering undergraduate students are women, with that rising slightly to 25 percent for graduate students.

In terms of the amount of female faculty, ASEE reported that just over 16 percent of faculty are women in the field of engineering.

Liang indicated that there is no longer the aspect of all-male faculty, so more females are entering the engineering field.

As engineering colleges hire female administrators and professors, Liang said, “It’s not all that uncommon to have female engineering faculty.”

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