Mon, Aug 31, 2009
The Straits Times
Wanted: More women to take up engineering

By Judith Tan

ENGINEERING has always been seen as a man's world, but Professor Victor Shim from the Faculty of Engineering at the National University of Singapore said it would do better with a woman's touch.

The vice-dean for external relations at the faculty wants to increase the proportion of female engineering students to between 40 and 45 per cent of the first-year intake. It has fluctuated between 23 and 31 per cent from 2005 till now.

'Engineering has always been about solving problems. Today's technology and products need the talents of both men and women, with their unique perspectives and insights. Otherwise, we miss out on potentially half the ideas and benefits that could make life better,' Prof Shim said.

To encourage more women to consider engineering, the faculty is holding a talk for junior college students, to give them insights into the profession and to debunk the notion that it is not suited for women. Entitled Women In Engineering, the talk will be held next Wednesday, from 2.30pm at the NUSS Suntec City Guild House.

Prof Shim said that in the past, machines tended to be large and heavy and an engineer's work 'often involved the rough and tough' - putting women off the profession. But technology has since levelled the playing field for the genders.

Famous women engineers include Ms Grace Hopper, who invented the Cobol computer language, Ms Ellen Richards, known as the 'mother of environmental engineering', and Nasa aeronautical engineer Barbara Johnson, who worked on the moon landing and was the only woman on the engineering team.

A check with Singapore's Professional Engineers Board (PEB), which registers engineers in the civil, mechanical and electrical branches, found that women make up about 4.5 per cent of the 3,400 engineers here.

About 2,100 of those registered are practising, and 5.7 per cent of these are women. PEB said women engineers were distributed across all the fields, including in biochemical engineering and wafer fabrication.

Practising women engineers The Straits Times spoke to said they enjoyed maths and science in school, and engineering was a natural choice in university.

Ms Woo Lai Lynn, an executive engineer, and Ms Cheng Lay Beng, a civil engineer, both with the PUB, the national water agency, do not feel they are any different from their male colleagues.

Ms Cheng, 45, feels 'right at home' 30m below ground, working with old sewage pipes. She was influenced in her choice of profession by one of her brothers, a mechanical engineer.

'In this job, there are advanced computerised machines that help. So there is no difference whether you are a man or a woman,' she said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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