In the article on pp. 50–55, “How to Prepare for the ChE Undergraduate Enrollment Trend,” Russell Rhinehart (Oklahoma State Univ.) presents information on the cyclical nature of chemical engineering undergraduate enrollment. Nationally, the ChE BS graduation rate fluctuates from high to low over a period of about 15 years. As exhibited by data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), graduation rates reached their peak around 2020. “Currently, graduation rates are just off peak and are beginning the downward trend,” writes Rhinehart.
Based on a simple mechanistic model, Rhinehart predicts that 2027 or 2028 will be the next low point of ChE graduates. According to the author, industry and academia can take action to prepare for the oncoming slump, but there is little they can do to stop the slump from happening. He compares the cyclical nature of enrollment to the changing of the seasons — it would be fruitless to try to stop winter from coming, so too is it fruitless to try to break the cycle.
Looking at the data is thought-provoking. For example, around the time when I graduated college, the cycle was at its lowest point. This is in line with what I experienced while attending my alma mater, Villanova Univ., for chemical engineering. At that time, my class was among the smallest classes in the major’s recent history. I graduated with around 30 classmates — roughly half of the number of graduates of the previous years. Interestingly, from what I can remember, my class was about a 50-50 split of women to men. An even gender divide is far from the norm when it comes to undergraduate engineering classes.
The article on pp. 43–49, “Drawing a More Inclusive Future: Breaking Down Gender Biases in the Workplace,” by Sarah Eckersley (Dow), examines the issue of gender equity in engineering. The article reviews data published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Census Bureau, which show how the participation of women in engineering has increased over the past decades. Despite some modest gains, the number of engineering degrees awarded to women still greatly lags behind the number of degrees awarded to men. According to 2019 data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), of the approximately 84,000 employed chemical engineers in the U.S., only 21% of them are women.
“My perspective is that we have made only minor progress, despite decades of effort and investment,” writes Eckersley. To remedy the gender equity problem in engineering, she believes that we will need to drive change at many levels: “at the societal level through policy; at the organizational level through human capital management and leadership commitment; at the working group level through actions that influence culture; and at the individual level through professional development,” she writes.
The best place to discuss these trends is at AIChE’s Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety (April 10–14, San Antonio, TX). In particular, the IDEAL Leadership Panel, scheduled for April 12th, will bring together leaders in industry and academia that embody IDEAL principles — Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-Racism, and Learning. These leaders will offer critical perspectives to address the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts in companies and universities. Flip to p. 59 to read more about the exciting events happening at the Spring Meeting.
Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief
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