Gender Diversity at The Cooper Union

By Afshin Khan (CE ‘19)

An overview of the Board of Trustees Meeting from June 21, 2017 describes an initiative of President Laura Sparks to improve diversity at the Cooper Union. The “Diversity Task Force” is fully endorsed by the Board of Trustees and is expected to launch soon. According to the minutes from this meeting, “the committee will look to external resources to employ best practices and break new ground in this area at Cooper”. Cooper Union has always held diversity in its highest regard, allowing women to enroll in courses in an era when that was uncommon, allowing even those of limited means to benefit from the school’s resources.

President Sparks, in a message to the Cooper Union community, stated how the Faculty-Student Senate recommended taking a closer look at gender diversity in engineering admissions. Sparks supported the idea and mentioned establishing a new “Diversity & Inclusion Task Force”. In the same memorandum, Sparks mentioned how the goal of the committee is to “engage faculty, students and staff in a process that examines diversity and… drives us toward excellence by promoting inclusive practices across all facets of Cooper Union operations, pedagogy, and student support.”

The numbers gleaned from various sources below indicate that although an equal, or even greater number of women are graduating with college degrees in comparison to men, these numbers are not reflected in STEM field admissions, as is evident in Cooper Union’s very own engineering school. 

According to admissions statistics for the 2016-2017 academic year, Cooper Union enrolled 480 students to the engineering school, approximately 66% of which were male, and 34% of which were female. Although somewhat dated, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 33% of males were beginning postsecondary students in STEM fields from 1995 to 1996 whereas 15% of females were beginning postsecondary students in STEM fields over the same time period. Some indices, such as U.S. News’ report that the gender disparity has only widened over the past two decades. 

According to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, women are more likely than men to have a college degree. According to the survey, 29.9% of men had a bachelor’s degree, whereas 30.2% of women had a bachelor’s degree. According to the same survey, 37.5% of  women between the ages of 25-34 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, whereas 29.5% of men have a bachelor’s degree or higher for the same age group. 

It is important to remember that the Society of Women Engineers was formed when 50 women congregated at Cooper Union’s Green Engineering Camp in 1950; a fact that should inspire gender diversity at Cooper Union today. ◊

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