The University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering held its first annual Women-in-Engineering Retreat last month. A total of 35 students, about ten percent of the undergraduate female student body, attended the event.
The retreat, which took place in Galveston at the Hawthorn Suites hotel, was organized by the Women in Engineering Learning Community for Maximizing Excellence program, or WELCOME.
“The mission of WELCOME is to retain more female students in the Cullen College of Engineering,” said Julie Trenor, director of undergraduate student recruitment and retention and WELCOME program director. “Research studies show that one of the main reasons female students leave the field of engineering is a sense of isolation. The aim of this retreat was to create a stronger sense of community among female students in order to reduce this sense of isolation, thereby helping to retain them in engineering. Even though they are still in the minority in their engineering classes, events like this help female students feel like they are not alone, and send them the message that they are a valuable part of the college.”
Kathy Zerda, director of Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies, or PROMES, was the retreat’s featured speaker, presenting a program entitled “What’s Your Type?” Participants took a personality inventory based on the Myers-Briggs test, followed by a discussion about how the self-knowledge provided by the test could help them in both their academic and professional lives. The students then discussed case studies about how to deal with different personality types in specific situations.
“This brought out a side of the girls that had not come out yet,” said Rachel Jones, second-year mechanical engineering student. “We debated several topics and we had the opportunity to argue our point-of-view. This open discussion revealed that the girls were feeling more comfortable around each other, and feeling like a community.”
The students also participated in team-building activities and an indoor design competition. The retreat wrapped up with dinner at The Spot, a local restaurant.
A post-retreat survey revealed unanimously high marks for the event. A common theme in the comments revolved around the all-female atmosphere created by the event.
“I believe the retreat helped the community feel like there actually is a community, and that each female is not alone,” said Jones.