By Kevin Howell

The lack of gender diversity in STEM fields has been well documented in recent years. Regardless of the region, the disparities are evident.

Despite the dismal numbers, there is progress. Corporations and institution of higher learning realize the disparities and have pledged to make changes.

In addition to pledges, governments and organizations have started initiatives to increase the number of women in STEM. For example, the Australian government is investing $13 million over the next five years to get women involved in STEM education and careers.

Some universities are seeing increased enrollment of women in engineering programs. At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 61 percent of the students in master’s and doctoral engineering programs were women in 2015.

According to a U.S. News report, universities are putting more emphasis on “bringing engineering principles to life through real-world problem solving and community service,” which keeps students, especially women, committed and engaged.

Solving community needs through engineering is one of the core principles of EPICS in IEEE, a signature program of the IEEE Foundation. The program has provided thousands of dollars in grants for projects, many of which are led by women.

Victoria Serrano, a graduate student at Arizona State University, received a $5,850 grant from EPICs to teach students in her native Panama to build robotic snakes. Serrano hosted after-school workshops for 20 area high school students, many of them girls, teaching them to assemble Lego Mindstorms EV3 kits and write software to control the snake’s movement.

IEEE member Brenda Vilas Boas is leading a project in Brazil that aims to bring telephone and Internet access to isolated communities. Boas received a $10,000 grant from EPICs and will work with university and high school students to establish a 2G telecommunication system in Itabocal, a rural Amazonian region.

Gender diversity remains an issue in the engineering world, both in education and the workforce. Though there is plenty of work do, women are making strides to close the gender gap. Thanks to various initiatives and organizations, women across the world are advancing in engineering.

Engineering is focusing more on projects that benefit humanity, and EPICS in IEEE is at the forefront of that shift, providing grants for community-service based engineering projects. Learn more about how to apply for a grant.