The Road Not Taken
by Melissa Femia
After reading about the numerous individuals highlighted in the Power Women series, I hope that readers are sharing the various engineering success stories with the young females in their lives. While highlighting the accomplishments of the engineers, the articles seek to encourage students to take a path that they may otherwise not have chosen. Instead of showcasing one engineer in this edition, I am instead providing historical data that confirms incremental increases in female engineering graduate percentages and will also draw a metaphorical comparison to a literary work. Choosing a path in engineering is akin to Robert Frost’s road taken—certainly more complex, perhaps more challenging, and clearly less-traveled than many other fields, especially for women.
Robert’s classic poem was written in 1915, published in 1916, and contemplates which path to walk (figuratively) or literally—which decision to make. While the literary analyses of the poem vary, an interpretation is that the walker could have chosen either path and perhaps would have been equally successful. However, the last line “And that has made all the difference” ultimately leads the reader to believe that the alternative path would not have yielded such positive results.
In relating this poem to the choice of whether to become an engineer or not, excellent students generally exhibit key skills and strengths that would help them succeed in or out of engineering. The karat, however, is that the opportunity in engineering is not only satisfying, but also offers easier job placement and higher starting salaries than most other fields. As cited in The Guardian, “more than 80% of female engineers are either happy or extremely happy with their career choice” according to a 2013 survey by the Royal Academy of Engineering (2019). Further, studies indicate that many female engineers who leave the technical field do so only to advance in to management or executive positions (National Academies Press, 2014).
The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The following chart (Chart 1) updated July 15, 2019 by Joseph Roy, provides the historical percentage of United States-based degrees awarded to males and females, respectively, from 2009 through 2018 (Roy, 2019).
Chart 1 (Roy, 2019):
With the exception of 2009 to 2010, the data indicate that there has been a gradual, year over year, increase in the percentage of degrees granted to females. While the trend is positive, females still only account for about 22% of the degrees awarded in the USA. Thus, pursuing an engineering degree still represents the road less traveled. In reviewing Chart 2, one can see that some fields such as environmental and biomedical engineering are nearly at parity between males and females.
More traditional forms of engineering such as mechanical and electrical engineering still show significant gaps between females and their male counterparts.
In summary, engineering offers countless opportunities for females—within various types and sizes of companies and also via limitless positions and work concentrations. From a financial standpoint, engineering also offers one of the highest post-collegiate starting salaries and boasts a high rate of employment. I hope that engineering will be your path taken.
Scringeour, Heidi. (June 26, 2019). How changing attitudes are closing the gender gap in engineering. The Guardian.
Roy, Joseph. Engineering by the Numbers. American Society of Engineering Education. Retrieved from https://ira.asee.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2018-Engineering-by-Numbers-Engineering-Statistics-UPDATED-15-July-2019.pdf
Fouad, Nadya A. and Singh, Romila. 2014. Appendix D Stemming the Tide: Why Women Engineers Stay in, or Leave, the Engineering Profession. National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/18810/chapter/11