My first semester “Introduction to Audio Engineering” course has 40 students. I’ve been a faculty member in the California State University system since 1978 and a full time, tenured professor in charge of the Audio Recording area at the Dominguez Hills campus for over 20 years. As you might expect, during all of those years the gender balance has skewed heavily male. Of course, there have been a few female students in our program but the numbers have always been small…I think the most I’ve had in one class was 4 a few years ago…until this term.
There are 7 female students in the class this term. And while that’s still a long way from parity with the guys, it is the most that I’ve ever had. There are two international students…one from the UK and another from France. These ladies came a very long way to be part of our program and are doing very well! The other female students are also working hard to succeed in the class. And it is a tough program. As you might expect, I’m considered a very tough instructor by the students (I think that’s probably true). However, the new cohort accepted the challenge, busted their buns studying and 11 students received an “A” on the midterm exam. I’ve never given that many before…and 3 of them went to the ladies. I’m very impressed with this group!
Audio engineering does contain a reasonable amount of technical knowledge but at my institution it’s doesn’t require a lot of math or physics knowledge. I tell my students that “no prior experience” is required to succeed in the program. I assure them that I will provide all of the information that they will need to succeed in the class AND hopefully secure a job in the industry. Of course, it does require that they attend class, take comprehensive notes and study hard for the exams. And the women can certainly learn the subject just as well as the men…but there are always less of them.
Perhaps there are not enough female audio engineering professionals to inspire these young women. If you look at the cover of MIX magazine or read the credits of your favorite albums, there aren’t a lot of prominent lady engineers. But they are out there. I ran into my friend Leslie Ann Jones, the Head Audio Engineer at the Lucas Facilities in northern California, and of course, I’ve mentioned my friend Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records previously on this site. When I was invited to give the keynote address at the Latin American Audio Engineering Society in Bogota, Columbia a few years ago, I met a number of very talented female engineers. I’ve managed to stay in touch with a few of them. And Martha de Francisco is a faculty member at the prestigious McGill University in audio recording as well as a successful independent audio professional. She was there too.
I think the trend is positive. The CSUDH Digital Media Arts area will be looking for a new faculty member next spring and I will be very proactive in encouraging women to apply for the job. Having positive role models for all students helps to inspire them to achieve. And the more ladies that are involved in the profession, the more it might invigorate women to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
I love it when I get comments from the guys saying something to the effect that “even the ladies in their lives were drawn into the recordings” when they usually don’t care at all about audio fidelity. There’s still hope.