published Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

GIRL POWER: Don't let STEM snobs deter you

Early on in our nation's space race, scientists discovered that women had an edge on men as astronauts.

Women were smaller, they performed better in "isolation" than men, their respiration was better in conditions that space travel would offer, and more of them -- 68 percent compared to 56 percent of men -- passed the tests for knowledge and stamina.

But in 1952, President Lyndon Johnson put a stop to the Women in Space Program -- WISP.

In 1963, of course, Russia put the first woman in space.

Fast-forward to 2012 and 2013 when headlines all across the country are bemoaning the fact so few women are going into science and engineering fields.

On Thursday night, Mae Jemison, America's first woman of color to make a space flight, told an audience of more than 500 people here that things have changed -- but not quite enough. Women remain the best equipped, and even the best prepared, to enter the fields of mathematics, science and engineering, she said. But they still are being steered away: This time by college professors and by their own lack of confidence.

"Women are being weeded out," she said. Not necessarily by intention, but by educational systems that fail to notice and attend to a need for change.

"American women entering college are the best prepared academically to hit the books and successfully graduate with a STEM degree (82 percent)," according to a Bayer research survey of faculty leaders from the nation's top 200 research universities STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) departments.

Yet only 18 percent of students currently graduating with engineering degrees in the United States are women ,and even a smaller percentage are minorities.

Jemison says this must change.

"I bring this up because these biases prevent us from getting the best talent," she said. "And this is not just a body count. We need people with different perspectives."

The Bayer study found that female and minority students were deterred by early "discouragement and traditional STEM teaching approaches."

Among issues at play is the interaction of stereotypes and self confidence, says Jemison, who has a medical degree and a chemical engineering degree. She also works with Bayer's Making Science Make Sense campaign.

The young women and minorities are taking deliberately challenging (read, university weeding-out) courses, and some are seeing the difficulty as a sign they shouldn't be there. And 40 percent of the country's working female and minority chemists and chemical engineers said they were "discouraged" in high school and/or college from pursuing their STEM career.

Jemison has a similar story.

"In my high school, I was the first and only girl to sign up for a drafting class. The instructor saw my name and walked into my homeroom and asked the teacher, 'Is this a joke?'"

Unfortunately, the faculty of research universities seem to have little appetite for change.

n Forty-six percent of STEM department chairs saw the rigorous introductory courses, meant to "weed-out" students, were generally harmful because they often drive away students with potential. Still, 57 percent do not see a need to change the intro courses.

n Seventy percent say the issue of recruiting and retaining women and minority undergraduates has reached a point where it needs to be addressed by university leadership, including trustees, presidents and deans.

n Eighty-four percent believe the issue is important to their chancellor or president, but only one-third say their university has a comprehensive STEM diversity plan with retention and recruitment goals.

Jemison is right. This is not about equal numbers. It's about having all the tools we can muster to create the right answers for tomorrow.

"America's success in the future depends on the present, and we as adults have to change the world today," she says.

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AndrewLohr said...

LBJ wasn't President in '52, nor in '62, nor in most of '63. Correction? (Other than that, when women can do the job, power to 'em, but when not, don't PC them in.)

March 2, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Andrew...PC them in?

For years women have been out-performing men in almost every catagory except those requiring sheer physical strength. Boys tend to fall behind in early education and many never close the gap.

If the trend for males continues, we will become little more than pack animals and sperm donors.

March 2, 2013 at 12:54 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

"Weed" courses do put students under stress and challenge their ability to think. I can say it is a process that is extremely distasteful but for the most part to get through that process in STEM does identify people who can work well under difficult technical circumstances and get the job done.

The track record of graduates, women and men, caucasian or minority, at the better engineering schools shows this. That process is problematic for otherwise capable students who come to it without good high school training and who may also have lived in social settings that do not encourage the personal traits/values needed to succeed under that kind of pressure. The latter is a clear problem for society and public education but not for the STEM schools. However, some engineering schools have changed the ways the curricula are designed and see quite high success rates for women and minorities in such circumstances.

In the emotions of this argument one cannot loose sight of the fact that science, engineering and mathematics are very challenging disciplines. Many people either do not have the intellectual discipline to do the hard work, or the intellectual capability to do it. Rather than use statistics like seventy percent of department chairs say recruiting women and minorities is a problem..., look at the hard numbers of the best science and engineering schools. I'll wager that those remaining 30% who do not report a problem recruiting women and minorities contain most of the best schools.

If you turn to the secondary education system you will probably find the better schools do encourage women and minorities with the intellectual interests/capability towards STEM but you will find the source of much of this problem. Overall, and good teacher will agree that there is great pressure by parents to "go easy" on my child, not demand excellence, and concomitantly great pressure on teachers by education management to accommodate because the managers do not want to face angry parents. The problem in public schools is also the draining of funds to support private schools and the unwillingness of parents to work with teachers rather than against them.

March 2, 2013 at 8:48 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Having taught high school for a long time, I know that this is a complex issue with many causes. However, over the years I have seen girls excel more at math and physical science. A combination of factors are at play that thankfully, with each passing generation, are gradually lessening:

Girls, especially in high school, intimidate boys if they excel. A lot of them play dumb to appear less of a threat and more attractive. Funny, it is the really pretty girls that do this the most. I have had to call many on the carpet in private for playing the Bimbo rather than demonstrating their cognitive and intellectual skills.

Parents excuse girls' lack of performance in math and science, when they don't excuse boys. Often mothers remember not doing well, and have the false impression that it was because of their gender. (My parents did not: my father expected my highest grades to be in math and science)

These courses used to be taught mostly by men. More and more competent women science and math teachers, especially at the highest levels, provide good role models.

If girls succeed in math and science in high school, they are more likely to have the confidence to tackle the subjects in college, or even attend colleges like GA Tech. It is especially important for girls to get hands-on experience in laboratory at the high school level, because confidence in lab is critical; your lab skills will be on display to your classmates in college, and lack of confidence can really discourage young women. Public schools must emphasize lab, but over-crowding and lack of funds really hurts.

I predict that in a couple more generations we will see the discrepancy disappear.

March 2, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.
timbo said...

As usual, Harry Austin is dispensing bull crap.

This is perpetuating the "women are victims" myths.

Since Harry wouldn't know the truth if it bit him. Here are a few facts.

Just a few “war on women” facts.

Women represent 51% of the nations PhDs, 51% of business applicants, 67% of college graduates, more than 70% of valedictorians. (Catalina Leadership 2012). In 1975 a higher percent of males than females obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1975 by 6 percentage points, by 2010 the it had flipped to females being the majority by 8 points. Women are 79% of all veterinary school students. They are 47% of all first year medical students. They are 49% of all dental school students. Recently there was an article that said because of lower male participation in colleges, some had lowered standards to get more males. Females are suing because it is reverse, reverse, discrimination. That’s right, it is ok to do it to white males but don’t you try it with women.

When these facts were reversed and males were dominating it was awful...we had to change it....this is male conspiracy....DISCRIMINATION, DISCRIMINATION!!!!!! blah, blah, blah.

Now that it has flipped, it's ok that one gender dominates. It is ok that boys are at risk and going down for the count because of a female dominated, female oriented, education system that now gives special advantage to girls.

Men are constantly ridiculed by society. Look at commercials on TV. The husbands are always ugly, dumb guys that don't know what dish washing liquid to use and they are always schooled by the pretty, smart wife talking down to him like a dog. Before you criticize me, Neil Cavuto pointed this same thing out on his program talking about how insulting it was. All the while it was a man who invented dish washing liquid.

Look at movies, it is always the evil white business man taking advantage of the poor downtrodden minorities that win in heroic fashion. Sounds like a propaganda film of the old Soviet Union.

One more thing, before you all do your little victory dance, men are issued patents at a 3 to 1 ratio over women. Women do well with linear concepts but men kill them on abstract thought.

This playing the sexes against one another and perpetuating these myths are just a political tactic of the left to fool women into voting for liberals who can "help" them. The liberal motto, "MAKE A VICTIM, GET A VOTE."

By the way, I have a successful, independent daughter that is a practicing veterinarian who thinks that democrats and liberals attempts at using her are insulting and scurrilous. She doesn't need your help, she can make it on her own.

You people make me sick. BOY POWER!!!!! Now, how does that make YOU feel?

March 4, 2013 at 5:47 p.m.
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