Record number of female first-year students join University of Toronto Engineering program

The University of Toronto reports women now account for 30.6% of the first-year students in its engineering programs.

Women now account for 30.6% of first-year students in University of Toronto (U of T) Engineering programs: a record for the faculty and a number that surpasses all other Ontario universities. It is the only engineering school in Ontario with female first-year enrolment of more than 30%. National figures are expected later this year from Engineers Canada.

“U of T Engineering is a rich environment for talented, bright women to become engineering leaders,” says Dean Cristina Amon. “Diverse perspectives are the foundation of our culture of excellence in research, education, service and innovation. This achievement is encouraging as we continue our proactive efforts to foster diversity within the Faculty, among universities and across the engineering profession.”

Today, one quarter (25.8%) of U of T Engineering’s undergraduate population is female, compared to a province-wide average of 19.7%. Across Canada and the United States last year, those averages were 18.9% and 19.9% respectively. The faculty’s targeted recruitment efforts have been successful, with female undergraduate enrollment up from 21.3% just six years ago, alongside rising entrance grade averages for first-year students that reached a record 92.4% this year.

“It’s exhilarating to be part of such a diverse and talented student community,” says Teresa Nguyen (CivE 1T4 + PEY), a fourth-year civil engineering student and president of the faculty’s Engineering Society (which elected its first female president in 1975). “At U of T Engineering, it doesn’t matter what your background is—it’s about the ideas, expertise and reasoning you bring to the table.”

“My experience at U of T Engineering has been even better than I expected,” says Molly Gorman (ChemE 1T8), a first-year chemical engineering student who’s eyed U of T since before she started high school. “It’s incredible being a part of Canada’s best engineering school—and living in a city filled with so many opportunities!”

As a leader in engineering education and research, U of T Engineering continues to attract world-class faculty. The complement of female faculty members has more than doubled in the past eight years, from 21 in 2006 to 44 in 2014. Seventeen percent of faculty members are women, which is three points higher than the Ontario average (14%) and four points higher than the Canadian average (13%).

These numbers are expected to grow in the years ahead, as early-career faculty members move up in the academic ranks. More than a quarter (27.8%) of U of T Engineering’s associate professors (early-career, tenure-stream faculty members) are now women, compared to an Ontario average of 15% and a national average of 15.7%.

In the 2014–15 academic year, women accounted for three of the four new faculty members hired at U of T Engineering. In addition, all three of the faculty’s 2014 Canada Research Chairs are women.

“Engineering has changed significantly from when I began at U of T several decades ago,” says Professor Susan McCahan (MIE), U of T’s new Vice-Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education, who was the university’s first female faculty member in mechanical engineering. “It is increasingly recognized as a vibrant and innovative profession: one that encourages broad perspectives and collaboration to drive positive changes that improve our world.”

Inspiring a new generation of female engineers

“Amidst the increasing numbers of women entering Engineering programs, there is more work to be done in attracting women to the diverse and rewarding field of engineering,” says Dean Amon. “We have re-imagined engineering education by introducing program innovations, new resources for students and outreach activities to continue to attract an even more diverse range of applicants, including women.”

As of 2013, women accounted for just 11.7% of all professional engineers in Canada. Growing numbers of female engineering students signal a promising future for gender balance in the profession.

U of T Engineering offers many outreach programs that aim to inspire girls and young women. In 2015, more than 560 female participants and 20 female instructors will take part in the following programs:

  • Girls’ Jr. DEEP Saturdays, for girls in grades 3 to 8. Girls’ Jr. DEEP Saturdays offer a hands-on science and engineering program that encourages girls to explore science, engineering and technology in a fun, confidence-building environment. All of the Girls’ Jr. DEEP Saturday sessions are led by female undergraduate U of T Engineering students.
  • U of T Girl Guide Badge Day for Girl Guides in the Greater Toronto Area, ages 9 to 11. Leaders from across the GTA bring their Girl Guide units to campus for the day in the hopes of earning an Engineering or Physics badge. Female undergraduate engineering students lead the hands-on activities. The 2015 Badge Day will take place on May 6.
  • Go ENG Girl for Ontario girls in grades 7 to 10 and their parents. This popular annual event provides an opportunity for girls and their parents to learn about the wonderful world of engineering from female professionals, academics and students. Participants engage in fun, hands-on projects, and get to speak with people currently working in the field of engineering. U of T holds this event in collaboration with the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWIE). Go ENG Girl takes place annually in October.
  • Go CODE Girl – NEW! For Ontario girls in grades 9 to 11. Offered in collaboration with ONWIE, Go CODE Girl will provide an exciting opportunity for girls to learn about the world of coding and software development, and career opportunities in the fields of computing and engineering. The inaugural event will take place on February 21.
  • Girls’ Leadership in Engineering Experience (GLEE) Weekend. For female high-school students who have been offered admission to U of T Engineering. The annual GLEE weekend offers female Engineering applicants an opportunity to learn more about the Faculty and the student experience by spending time with female U of T Engineering students, professors and alumnae who share a desire to improve lives through engineering. The GLEE weekend will take place in late May.
  • Young Women in Engineering Symposium, for top grade 12 female science students. On October 4, 2014, 84 of Ontario’s top Grade 12 female science students came to the St. George campus for the “Design a Better World” day and activities, which included hands-on engineering workshops, an alumni panel, a “Mythbusters” student panel, a design team and student organization showcase, and lab tours. Participants had the opportunity to meet current U of T Engineering students, faculty and alumni. The symposium is expected to become an annual event, and future dates will be announced.