She grew up with erector sets and Lincoln logs, building blocks and Lego cities. She had been interested in building since she was a child, but not until her second year of college did she truly understand just what engineering was all about.
Alice Pawley, a UW-Madison industrial engineering graduate student, said it was the combination of childhood toys, parental influence, teachers', professors' and friends' reactions and her interest in math and science that pulled her in engineering's direction.
\I think it's often the same with other women. Anyone who tells you there was one thing which made up their mind doesn't have a very sophisticated understanding of girls' socialization and the importance of cultural factors in people's decision-making,"" Pawley said.
Twenty-one percent of UW-Madison's engineering students were female in 2001, up only 6 percent compared to 10 years earlier, according statistics obtained from the College of Engineering.
Of the 12 engineering majors offered, mechanical and electrical engineering, the school's two largest programs, are currently less than 10 percent female.
Dr. Sarah Pfatteicher, associate dean of the College of Engineering, said she felt the field's minimal social emphasis inhibits some females from entering the major.
""Engineering has focused the most on its technical identity and minimized the social aspects of the field,"" Pfatteicher said. ""Women are more likely than men to be motivated by a concern for or interest in social issues, which are often minimized or ignored by the profession, by textbooks, by the media and by faculty.""
Lack of a personal connection to engineering may also influence the lower percentage of female interest in the field, according to Emily Roland, a UW senior majoring in civil engineering and former president of The Society of Women Engineers.
""There is little room for self-expression and interpretation, which many females need,"" Roland said.
Currently, the female enrollment for the College of Engineering is 18.8 percent. Roland said she felt female students should consider joining a student engineering organization in order to further connect themselves with the field.
""The SWE is a great way for women to meet other women and establish a sense of belonging,"" Roland said. ""When females become involved in any of the student organizations in engineering, they feel much more a part of the scene.""
Also, a 2002 fall section of Engineering Professional Development 160, Intro to Design, will focus specifically on women in engineering, according to Pfatteicher
One way to battle the gender difference is to hire more female staff, according to Don Woolston, associate dean for the UW-Madison College of Engineering.
""The good news is that [the number of female staff] is more than I can count off the top of my head. When I first started the college in 1981, there were only two female professors, and neither of them had a Ph.D. in engineering,"" Woolston said.
There are currently 13 female faculty and 137 female academic staff compared to 163 and 233 male, respectively. There are no female department heads in the College of Engineering.
To assist in increasing numbers of high ranking female faculty and staff, UW-Madison has been awarded one of nine National Science Foundation grants from the U.S. government.
UW-Madison has established the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute as a result of this $3.75 million grant.
Jennifer Sheridan, executive and research director for WISELI, says the group will use UW-Madison as a ""living laboratory"" to study the lack of advancement of female faculty members and then distribute the findings to other institutions and universities.
""The work of WISELI will include evaluating existing programs already available on campus and will also include implementing new programs, for example, Life Cycle Research Grants for faculty in the sciences and engineering,"" Sheridan said.
Only 22 percent of the science and engineering workforce is female, and less than 20 percent consist of faculty in the same programs in four-year colleges and universities, according to NST.
""It isn't hard to see that girls are only about 20 percent of the population, but we have to get past that and fit in however possible,"" Roland said.