FEMALE students are making inroads into the traditionally male-dominated field of engineering, as initiatives to attract them start to pay off.
They make up three in 10 of those studying the subject at Singapore's universities and polytechnics, up from 15 per cent a decade ago.
In the United States, the figure is about two in 10, according to the Institution of Engineers Singapore. Universities here have been going all out to attract young women to join the field, said the institution's vice-president, Mr Chong Kee Sen.
Since 2007, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has organised a programme targeted at female students. Called Women in Engineering, it highlights interesting elements of the subject. Nanyang Technological University's College of Engineering has also been organising talks for female students in junior colleges.
Meanwhile, the new Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) hopes that up to 40 per cent of its students will be female. It is still conducting admissions and will open in April. The university - Singapore's fourth - organised a workshop aimed at young women last month.
The three-hour session introduced students to SUTD's teaching methods and female role models in engineering. It was run by female engineering professors and academics from the university and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wellesley College in the US.
About 150 students were taught a problem-solving method that will be incorporated into most modules at SUTD. It involves four steps: inquiry, generating ideas, invention and introspection. Small groups of students were given a problem and asked to create a new product to solve it.
SUTD's advertising campaign also highlights women's contributions in the field. 'We need to convince them that engineering is not this boring job where you sit in the office all the time and never talk to anybody,' said the university's president, Mr Tom Magnanti.
He said about 20 per cent of engineering students abroad are typically female. Having equal numbers of men and women would enrich the learning environment, he added, as they bring different experiences.
Mr Chong said: 'The populations of men and women are about the same, but equally talented and capable women are not being tapped and are therefore under-represented in a very important field.'
Dr Tan Woei Wan, assistant dean of the NUS Faculty of Engineering, said having more female engineers will mean products are designed to better meet the needs of women.
Engineering students who spoke to The Straits Times said the introductory schemes helped to address their concerns about the subject.
'Before I attended the NUS outreach programme, I always felt that engineering was more demanding than other programmes,' said Ms Brenda Tay, who is in her final year. 'But after talking to some female engineers, I realised that it was just a generalisation.'
Although the 23-year-old does not plan to work as an engineer after graduation, she said the critical thinking skills she learnt are still relevant.
Pioneer Junior College student Natalie Tan, 17, said she had not considered studying engineering until she attended the SUTD workshop.
'I'm glad I got to experience what SUTD is about,' she said. 'They've made engineering look very interesting.'