Closing the Gender Gap: A Conversation with the President
The incoming class of 2017 represents the most gender-balanced class in its history, with female students representing 43% of the freshman student body—an increase of 10%. President Laurie Leshin invited senior vice president Kristin Tichenor to talk about this development, which places WPI among STEM institutions with the highest percentage of female students.
LL Kristin it's great to be with you and to talk about women at WPI. This has been a big goal of ours for a long time, to help diversify the pipeline in STEM, and for us that starts really early. Right?
KT Absolutely. We figured out early on if we waited for students to come to us, they were not necessarily going to be as diverse as we were hoping. So we began to invest heavily in summer pipeline programs and afterschool programs for young women and for other under-represented students. Now these young people have the chance to see how exciting and creative science and engineering can be.
LL It's fantastic actually. A good friend of mine was telling me this week that her daughter came to Camp Reach, which is one of the wonderful middle school girls camps that we have here, and it has fundamentally changed her outlook on STEM.
KT It does make a big difference, and I think because of this early focus, WPI will feel very different for future young women than it did for the women coming to WPI just 10 years ago.
"It’s wonderful to know that a WPI education is really powerful for women." - Laurie Leshin
LL Now there's almost 500 women in the class of 2021. It's extraordinary and I always talk about that when I meet our alumni. They often ask me what's the ratio at WPI, and they mention that it was six to one when they were a student, or it was four to one, and more recent alumni say it was two to one. But now at 43 percent, I think we can safely say there's no more ratio – we're getting very close to 1 to 1. What an exciting time for WPI.
It’s also wonderful to know that a WPI education is really powerful for women, and the data that we have on the impact of project based learning on all of our students shows that a WPI education is serving diverse populations very well. Would you agree with that?
KT I would. And it's one of the reasons I believe that WPI has something special to offer young women, because while they can get a good STEM education at many institutions, this is the kind of place where they will learn how to take their classroom learning and translate it in positive ways, to impact the communities around them. And we know young women care deeply about making the world a better place, making communities a better place. WPI offers project experiences that allow women to do exactly that, even in their first year.
LL Now our women students are going to be joining the ranks of our women alumnae soon enough, and we have a lot of really successful women to be proud of. I can’t wait for them to meet Judy Nitsch, who was inducted into our WPI Hall of Luminaries this year as the first woman. Or Michelle Goss, who is taking over as CEO of Kohls. WPI Women are making things happen around the world.
KT Judy Nitsch is a great example of an alumna who spends a lot of time and energy talking up WPI to prospective students and encouraging them to follow in her footsteps, which we greatly appreciate.
LL It’s all very inspiring. Next year we'll be going even further – full speed ahead! Thanks, Kristin.
First published in WPI Journal, Winter 2017 edition
A Conversation with the President
A full video recording of the Winter 2017
conversation with senior vice president Kristin Tichenor