Equality in Engineering: Britta Kunkemoeller

Major: Chemical Engineering

Britta has a goal to get a Ph.D. in engineering, focusing on biological and medical applications.  She is also, however, deeply interested in equality in the sciences and figuring out what social cues make things the way they are.  She is specifically interested in why there are fewer numbers of females than males in the engineering disciplines.  She says she noticed this fact in her classes and wanted to figure out why that difference might be present.  In her project, she intends to look at the culture of engineering and its effects on the success of women in the field.   She perceives that engineers have a unique culture based on competition that emphasizes forceful personalities.  In some respects, this may be advantageous, allowing people with those kinds of competitive character traits to reach their full potential.  However, Britta says, it also precludes anyone who does not have these traits from entering the field.  She tends to see that, as a group, females do not exhibit these traits as often.  She wondered if there was a connection between her observations and the fact that, statistically, fewer women pursue engineering degrees.  She was thus drawn to figure out if this connection is present. To find out, she will conduct surveys and interviews, specifically with female students.  She will then use these results to infer the effect of culture on the behavior of students.

Britta will be advised by Dr. Nancy Naples and Dr. Lynne Goodstein from Sociology, and Dr. Leslie Shor from Chemical, Material and Biomolecular Engineering.  By exploring her wide interests and utilizing the diverse expertise of her advisors, she hopes to find reasons for the inequities she sees in engineering and ways these disparities may be lessened.