Women empowering women to enter STEM fields

By Samantha Jacobs
May 4, 2016

Women make up 47% of the workforce, but...Expanding the number of women in STEM fields requires more than just women’s empowerment.

An associate professor of life and physical sciences has been watching the way that women are represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“I had two faculty members (in high school) that made all the difference,” Dr. Anne Coleman said.

A math teacher who was hard on the students she believed in and an anatomy and physiology teacher’s enthusiasm inspired Coleman to study science after high school.  

The National Girls Collaborative Project is working to empower girls to enter STEM fields like Coleman, and the statistics show that more and more women are starting to do just that.

According to the project, in 2011 women earned 57.3 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, and in science and engineering specifically, they comprised 50.4 percent of bachelor’s degree earners.

Getting women into STEM fields starts a lot sooner than college though. At her high school, Coleman was the only female in the college prep track and believes that the boys actually felt threatened by her, making her time as a student more difficult.

“I wasn’t supposed to be smart. I wasn’t supposed to be able to think, and that was clear and constantly challenged,” Coleman said. “I had to go above and beyond to prove that I deserved that seat.”

As she continued to school, being female led to more challenges to prove that she was just as capable of working in science as any of the males in her classes were as her ability to have a family and a career was questioned.

“Inappropriate comments, inappropriate touch, even in the ’90s, was problematic,” Coleman said. “Being alone in the lab at night with a bunch of the male graduate students was not a comfortable place to be.”

“I went through graduate school and I was the only female to defend my dissertation,” Coleman said.

The problems that Coleman faced are still experienced by females today as the study STEM fields in higher education.

“Some of my friends who are also a math major have been told that they shouldn’t pursue their dream of getting their doctorate in math and become a college professor because they are a female,” Alicia Ireland, senior mathematics and secondary education major, said. “When I heard that, I was discouraged from even thinking I can even make it as a regular high school teacher.

Like Coleman, Ireland was inspired by a teacher to continue studying math even though it was difficult.

“I have always wanted to become a teacher, but I never knew which subject I wanted to teach until 5th grade where I had an amazing math teacher who inspired me to want to teach math and show students how fun and amazing it could be if a teacher actually tried to help their students understand and see the importance of mathematics,” Alicia Ireland said.

The problems do not end for females though after earning their degrees. There are still a number of ways that working in a STEM field is challenging for a woman.

“When I graduate, I want to join the Peace Corps and work overseas, but I am afraid that a male candidate might get accepted before I do, since it is more likely something will happen to a female in other world countries than a man, so a man would be more likely to be chosen over me,” Ireland said. “It is a sad fate, but it’s true.”

There is another place though though besides just gender that come into play when looking at increasing the number of women looking into stem fields as access and quality of education also plays a massive role.

“The next place we need to go is to try and figure out how we can get underrepresented women into the fields,” Coleman said.

Going to a school where there was never an opportunity to be in a science lab or use equipment sets students behind as they pursue higher education according to Coleman.

Encouraging females to enter STEM fields comes down to opportunity and access to education, which means enabling the minority groups that are not able to access the same resources as other students.

“I think the number one problem is inequity in funding of schools,” Coleman said. “Second, I think that is the responsibility of those that who have succeeded to give back in ‘ask the scientist’ type things or mentoring.”

“I feel that women can do anything they set their mind to,” Ireland said.


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Samantha Jacobs

Samantha is a Digital Communications and Social Media Major, Spanish minor, Web and Multimedia Editor for Loquitur, Director and Multimedia Manager for LOQation News. She has an interest in rock music and her favorite stories to write are about music news and reviews.

1 thought on “Women empowering women to enter STEM fields”

  1. Pingback: Online Articles of Interest to WIAReport Readers | Women In Academia Report : Women In Academia Report

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