Linda and Lee Norris, UT class of 1970 alumni, have made a $1 million gift to UT to go toward scholarships for women in engineering and need-based scholarships.
The need-based part of the gift will support students in the University Leadership Network, some of whom come from low-income backgrounds and are first-generation college students.
As the first person in her immediate family to go to college, Linda said she understands what the experience is like and wants to support others in similar positions.
“Every kid is learning to navigate the University, but in combination with that, you’re the first one in your immediate family to go to college,” Linda said. “Nobody has any experience to tell you what to expect. I could identify with that.”
Linda said she hopes the scholarships will incentivize women to pursue a career in engineering.
“At the time that I was in school, because there were no role models for women doing much other than teaching, you just didn’t know what your opportunities were really,” Linda said.
Lee said when he was an undergraduate engineering student at UT, only around 2% of engineering students were women. While that percentage has increased to 28%, Lee said the disparity is still an issue.
“It just always has been a mystery why more women didn’t go into engineering,” Lee said. “In my experience in 40 years, mostly in the oil patch, which is not exactly a traditionally female field, the view was, ‘If you can do the work, we don’t care who you are.’”
Aashima Garg, an electrical and computer engineering senior, said it’s important to encourage women to go into engineering because these fields are changing the world drastically, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence, prosthetics and virtual reality.
“When solutions to world-wide problems are developed by only one group of people, in this case men, they are incomplete and not representative,” Garg said. “One example of this is how until 2016, virtual assistants could respond with resources and emergency help to statements like ‘I’m having a heart attack,’ but could not to ‘I’m being raped’ or ‘I’m being abused by my husband,’ but the list goes on and on.”
Female representation in STEM will help create solutions to these problems, Garg said.
“I think we as a society have to prioritize building complete, representative solutions to these problems by getting minorities into otherwise homogeneous fields and, even further, including them when they’re there,” Garg said.