SJSU Joins CSU Initiative to Increase Women Faculty in Engineering

Sheryl Ehrman, dean of the College of Engineering, speaks at San José State’s Silicon Valley Women in Engineering conference in 2019. The university has joined a CSU-wide initiative to increase women faculty in engineering.

More than 30% of tenure or tenure-track faculty at San José State University’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering are women — the fourth highest among public engineering colleges in the country, according to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Thanks to a $1.25 million National Science Foundation grant, that number may grow, with an emphasis on increasing diversity as well as expanding networking and support opportunities for women faculty.

Awarded to California State University, Fresno — who is partnering with SJSU, California State University Los Angeles and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — the grant will support those California State University (CSU) campuses’ efforts to hire more women engineering faculty members, especially underrepresented minority women, according to a release from Fresno State.

Ultimately, the goal is to enroll more female students. Up to 11 more CSU campuses may eventually join the initiative.

“We are excited to participate in this initiative,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the Don Beall Dean of the College of Engineering.

“While we are one of the top public colleges of engineering in the nation with respect to women tenure/tenure-track faculty, there is still room for progress,” she continued. “I appreciate the focus on strengthening research collaborations and building the mentoring and peer-support network.”

The initiative, called the Kindling Inter-University Networks for Diverse (KIND) Engineering Faculty Advancement, is led by Fresno State and will follow a three-pronged approach.

First, it will analyze the campuses’ engineering faculty data using Aspire’s Institutional Change program to evaluate hiring practices, and policies and procedures around supporting and advancing existing faculty.

Second, it will create a CSU-wide network for research collaboration, including mini-grants for network members. And third, it will foster a systemwide mentoring and peer-support network to increase faculty retention and promotion.

The initiative will also create a dashboard where campuses can track the demographics of existing faculty and advancement data, which would allow them to identify potential roadblocks in hiring and retention.

“Is it at the hiring state where we aren’t getting diverse candidates? Is it in faculty departures before tenure? Is there a gender difference there?” asked Kimberly Stillmaker, assistant professor of civil engineering at Fresno State and one of the faculty members who led the grant application process.

“Once we have that data, then we’ll be able to make better changes, more pinpointed changes,” she noted.

In 2019, only 17% of the country’s engineering tenured/tenure-track faculty were women, according to the ASEE, and it’s even lower for Black and Latina women.

Since Ehrman stepped into her role in 2017, she has worked to increase the presence of female faculty in SJSU’s College of Engineering.

“The SJSU campus has made significant changes to our faculty search processes, including training committees in inclusive search practices,” she noted.

“Our college has women in leadership roles — department chairs, associate deans and me as the second female dean — so this helps in recruiting women at all career stages,” Ehrman continued. “We are looking for faculty who are student-focused and who will prioritize delivering a quality educational experience for students as well as research that directly involves students.”

Young Park, associate professor of computer engineering, is one of those faculty members. She uplifts women and underrepresented minorities through cybersecurity hands-on research and industry experience.

“My focus is to let these students overcome stereotypes as they develop skills that are needed for advanced cybersecurity,” she explained.

“I believe diversity is a key factor for successful programs at any organization and any project, because the complete solution can be derived from various backgrounds and environments. Through the KIND project, I hope our female faculty members will become leaders in the engineering field.”

Another strategy that has helped recruit women engineers to SJSU is the college’s emphasis on applied research that benefits society, Ehrman said.

“Women are more drawn to engineering if they see an engineering career as a way they can contribute positively to society, and being an engineering professional, training the next generation of engineers is a way to scale that benefit,” Ehrman explained.

The College of Engineering provides several opportunities for women engineering students to build relationships with mentors and each other. For example, the college hosts an annual Silicon Valley Women in Engineering Conference, where female engineering students from SJSU and other higher ed institutions can learn from women professionals in the field.

SJSU women engineering students can also join SWE SJSU, the campus’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. And in 2017, an engineering sorority was founded on campus as well.

Still, Ehrman emphasized that the KIND Engineering Faculty Advancement initiative will allow SJSU to continue to take big steps toward bringing more women — especially underrepresented minority women — into the engineering field.

“The grant will provide excellent opportunities for networking and support of women faculty across the CSU, so our current and future faculty will greatly benefit,” she said.

“While our percentages are high, our college can improve in recruitment and retention of women faculty of color, and we hope to be able to learn through participation in this grant how we can improve in this area.”

Learn more about the KIND Engineering Faculty Advancement initiative.