New mentorship program for women engineering students ‘very valuable, much needed’

Some things just don’t get covered in the classroom.

That’s one reason why Gonul Kaletunc created a mentoring program for women engineering students at Ohio State.

Although women make up 20 percent of engineering graduates, only 11 percent of the engineering workforce is female, said Kaletunc, professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Reasons for leaving the profession include workplace climate and perception of the workplace, while reasons for staying include having key supportive people in place.

“It happens very quickly,” Kaletunc said. “About 40 percent of the women leave engineering jobs very early in their career. The culture needs to change.”

In the meantime, she said, it’s important to help women negotiate their work environment in engineering.

“When I was starting my career, I had very good advisers, but no official mentor. I had to discover a lot of things myself,” Kaletunc said.

She thought a lot about that when she was one of two faculty members chosen to represent Ohio State in 2015-16 as a fellow in the Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering program, run by Philadelphia’s Drexel University. As part of her participation in ELATE, Kaletunc decided to create and pilot a new mentoring program for women engineering students at Ohio State.

“I had been talking about the need for a structured mentoring program for a long time,” Kaletunc said. “A mentoring program should be long enough to allow mentors and mentees to build a relationship.

“And, since I wanted to have students get together to talk about their experience, another important aspect was to make sure to keep them all on the same page. So, I wrote a curriculum.”—Martha Filipic, Marketing and Communications

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