February 07, 2001

Telecommunications giant AT&T has teamed up with MentorNet, a Silicon Valley-based email network that links women engineering students with volunteers in the industry, to boost the ranks of African American and Hispanic women in math, science and engineering.

AT&T awarded MentorNet a two year, $300,000 grant to support the e-mentoring organization's outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions. The four-year old not-for- profit organization now boasts more than 2,000 mentors from more than 600 employers and 2,000 students from 70 colleges and universities.

AT&T has long supported programs to increase the number of women in engineering. This year, the company sponsored National Engineers Week, which ran February 18-24. One new feature in 2001 was "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day," a nationwide project to bring the world of engineering to girls.

The grant to MentorNet comes as the demand for skilled IT workers in the U.S. has skyrocketed. But according to The Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., millions of technology jobs will go begging, thanks to an acute talent shortage.

Despite the exploding demand for IT professionals, just eleven percent of all engineering positions are now filled by women. Women make up about 20 percent of the enrollment in college engineering programs, and the number drops at the doctoral level.

"There's a gap in the numbers of women who enter science, math and engineering and go on to graduate, and men who go into these same fields," says Carol Muller, MentorNet founder and executive director. "But the gap is even more acute when you consider the number of minority women entering these areas."

In 1995, African American women earned just over 4 percent of all undergraduate degrees and just over 4 percent of all science, mathematics, and engineering undergraduate degrees, according to a National Science Foundation report. Hispanic women earned less than 3 percent of science, mathematics, and engineering degrees awarded in 1995.

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