Ashdod program aims to encourage high school women to choose engineering

Sami Shamoon College's Dr. Tavor seeks to dispel the stigma of engineering being "very macho."

Tavor 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Tavor 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The Sami Shamoon College of Engineering, the nation's largest, is trying to encourage more women to become engineers. Having recognized that the problem begins at the high school level, Dr. Dorith Tavor, dean of chemical engineering and the project's founder, has created a multi-level program. High school pupils in Ashdod will participate in the five-session program and be mentored by students from the college's campus in the city. Those same students will participate in their own seminar and be mentored by female faculty. Then the female faculty will have their own seminar as well. The program is being run in conjunction with the Derech Isha Company, which works to empower women. "This was something I've been thinking about for awhile. Engineering has a stigma of being very macho. I am submersed in an all male environment and I wanted to show other women that they could succeed in engineering as well," Tavor told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Tavor, 43, has a doctorate in engineering as well as five children. "Instilling the stigma starts young - both from the home and the environment," she said, "Girls in middle school excel at math and science and the honors classes are filled with them. However, when it comes time to choose majors in high school, suddenly the percentages drop precipitously. It is not because of a lack of ability but rather because of peer pressure that characterizes science and math as boys' majors." It was very hard to go into engineering without first majoring in science or math in high school, Tavor told the Post. That's where her new program comes in. "Women need a women's forum. They need support and they need role models," she said. The women at each level in her program mentor the ones below them, providing positive role models. Moreover, the program's curriculum focuses on the nuts and bolts necessary to succeed. "They'll learn why engineering is an attractive career, about how to be a female manager, how to balance home life and a career, and how to succeed and move ahead. Women in key positions will come and address the groups as well," Tavor said. In Israel, women made up around 20 percent of the student body in the hard sciences and engineering in 2007. At Sami Shamoon, they are 25.6% of the students. In chemical engineering, fully 57% are women, Tavor said. "Again, it's an issue of stigmas. Women perceive chemical engineering as somehow less macho than say, electrical engineering. Also, it involves a different type of thinking that women are better at," she said. "I am also positive that because chemical engineering has a female dean it attracts many more women." Tavor said the college was 100% behind her program. "They support it, fund it, they're very much in favor of it. The Ashdod municipality is also behind the program and helps offset the cost for the high school girls," she said. Sami Shamoon was founded in 1995 and is now the country's largest engineering college with 3,000 students. It have campuses in Ashdod and Beersheba, and is accredited by the Council for Higher Education to grant B.Sc. degrees. Six engineering tracks degrees are offered: electrical & electronics, chemical, automobile [mechanical], computer [Software Engineering], industrial and administrative [management], and construction [Civil].