January 2002

Women in Science: Examining Opportunities and Barriers

Bioterrorism: From the Abstract to the Concrete

High-Flying Physicist: An Interview with Katharine Blodgett Gebbie ’57

Exploring the Fundamental Mechanisms of Inheritance and Development

Trapping Atoms to Observe Their Interactions

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© 2003

 

Bryn Mawr College
A quarterly newsletter on research, teaching, management, policy making and leadership in Science and Technology

Women in Science: Examining Opportunities and Barriers
By Dorothy Wright

Science and technology have taken quantum leaps over the last few decades, yet the progress of women in science has not kept pace.

President Nancy J. Vickers and U.S. Rep. Connie Morella (Md.)

Bryn Mawr’s recent Women in Science Symposium shed light on opportunities and barriers and recommended actions to drive advancement — both individually and collectively. More than 120 Bryn Mawr College alumnae, members of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS), educators, public policy makers, and corporate science researchers and managers participated in the two-day symposium, which was co-sponsored by the College’s Center for Science in Society. (Please see the sidebar on page X for a list of speakers.)

"It has always been the mission of the College to challenge young women in all fields of study," said President Nancy J. Vickers in welcoming participants. "Although I am a scholar of the humanities, it is clear to me that in today’s world, Bryn Mawr and other women’s colleges are making truly distinctive contributions the sciences and mathematics."

In her opening remarks, Jill Sideman, M.A.’63, Ph.D. ’65, director and vice president of CH2M HILL, Oakland, Calif., noted that barriers remain for women in science. "We are here because this issue, although it has been discussed and measured for at least the last 20 years, is still not solved. It is still not changing as rapidly as it needs to change." She exhorted participants to think about what they might do to contribute to change.

Putting Issues in Context

In the opening panel discussion, representatives of pre-university education, university teaching and research, traditional and new-economy industry, and government science research examined the status of women in these diverse fields. They uncovered many common experiences, which provided a context for the working sessions.

Moderated by Catherine Didion, executive director of AWIS, Wasington, D.C., the panel identified and reflected on several key needs. Anne M. Thompson, Ph.D. ’78, focused on interdisciplinary skills: "If you do interdisciplinary work and apply it to new problems, you stay at the cutting edge and your career continues to move upward."

Priscilla Perkins Grew ’62, professor of geosciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, spoke to the issue of fearlessness: "One of the biggest contributions we can make is to help women overcome their fear of being in the lead. It starts in elementary school."

Jane Butler Kahle, Condit Professor of Science Education, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, pointed out the subtle differences in the treatment of the sexes today. "We no longer have overt sexism, overt discrimination. We now have covert, very subtle differences in the treatment of women and men."

Susan Graham, director of new business development, Rohm & Haas, Philadelphia, emphasized the need to urge women to follow their hearts. She said educators need to tell students, "Figure out what you like and then go do it, and if it happens to be in science or mathematics, so much the better."

Maria-Luisa Maccecchini, CEO of Annovis, Aston, Pa., pointed out the need for vision and power: "Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say, ‘I have a budget.’ He said, ‘I have a dream.’ I feel strongly that we have to look at what we can do to integrate women more fully in the seats of power, not only in science but in policy as well."

Working Sessions

Much of the symposium was devoted to seven workshops that focused on issues identified as critical to the full participation and advancement of women in science. The workshop format reflected two goals of the program planning committee: to provide participants with strategies and proposals they can immediately use in their work; and to identify policy and practice recommendations for broad application at all levels of science education and in science and technology workplaces.

Maria Pelligrini (l.) and Priscilla Perkins Grew ’62.

The workshops were convened by Maria Pellegrini, program director at the W.M. Keck Foundation, Los Angeles, and Maxine Lazarus Savitz ’58, former director of Technology Partnerships at Honeywell Corporation, Torrance, Calif. They and other participants elaborated on education and workplace issues based on questions raised by the opening panel. Pellegrini observed, "Something that for me was a continuing theme, which Kitty Didion picked up from the panelists, is how and where do women and girls learn to be successful in science?"

The education workshops addressed issues, recommendations and action items related to the topics New Learning Technologies, Pedagogical Strategies, Preparing Science and Non-Science Majors for Success, and Supporting Women S&T Faculty. The workplace sessions were titled Networking for Success, The New Economy and Risk-Taking and Leadership.

Steps to Drive Change

At the close of the workshops, participants reconvened to hear summaries of the conclusions drawn from these lively discussions.

Educators now recognize a wide range of learning styles and the ways in which gender plays a role in learning style, observed Lisa Bievenue, education research associate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who co-moderated the New Learning Technologies workshop. Science teachers have an opportunity to apply new learning technologies, such as those offering individualized, interactive experiences, to engage students who have been lost to science at an early age — many of them girls. However, technology development is occurring in relative isolation. Therefore, the group recommended the creation of a central directory of information, including critical analyses of materials and the identification of trends in development.

Lori Perine ’80

Among the key issues addressed in The New Economy workshop were "‘The big three’ — access to capital, risk aversion by women themselves, as well as potential business partners and financiers, and isolation from other women in science and technology careers," said Lori Perine ’80, CEO of Interpretech, Montgomery Village, Md..

Thriving in the new economy means "Networking, networking, networking!" Perine said. Women must reach out to women business owners with access to capital, participate in mentoring, and leverage changes in cultural and economic forces.

"The economy is becoming much more distributed," she explained. "There are more virtual models of how business is conducted, and that can be leveraged quite highly to our advantage as female entrepreneurs. If you think of the idea that business models and structures have tended to follow sports metaphors, the previous generation was a football generation, where the quarterback called the plays. This generation tends to be a soccer generation, where we need sharing and cooperation to get to the goal, and that’s going to drive changes in the business environment."

For science majors and non-majors alike, "Math is the key to success in science, math, engineering and technology careers," explained Toby M. Horn ’72, recapping the discussion in the workshop on Preparing Science and Non-Science Majors for Success. National Science Foundation-sponsored Project Kaleidoscope programs are changing how math is taught at the college level to provide more context and opportunity for cooperative learning, which makes math more appealing to many female and minority students. But educators must provide more opportunities for students to intern and develop mentorship relationships with women in these careers. "Women’s colleges and small liberal arts colleges have the best potential to encourage women to major in math, science and technology," said Horn, who represents DC ACTS, a coalition to improve K-12 math and science education, at the Office of Academic Services, District of Columbia Public Schools.

Jong-On Hahm

Jong-On Hahm, director of the Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., noted that Risk-Taking and Leadership participants focused a lot of their discussion of leadership "on the characteristics we would like to see: motivating people, open-mindedness, leading by example — and those are all great things. We also talked about the qualities that make a good leader, but aren’t so ‘nice.’ For example, ruthlessness — making an executive decision knowing a lot of people aren’t going to like it."

Barriers to risk-taking and leadership include fear of failure, which, as Hahm summed up, "translates to, ‘I’m going to fall flat on my face.’"

Co-moderator Elizabeth McCormack, associate professor of physics at Bryn Mawr, noted that the major incentive for taking risk is the opportunity for personal growth and creativity. "That’s a huge reason to take risk, a proactive reason to go ahead and make some of these difficult decisions."

Diversity a Requirement

William Wulf (l.) and Catherine Didion

Friday evening’s keynote speaker, William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, Wasington, D.C., chose a topic that clearly resonated with his audience: "the absolute requirement for diversity in the workforce."

First, he said, "Engineering is a profoundly creative profession," despite its image to the contrary.

Second, "Creativity is derived from an individual’s life experiences," he asserted. "When I say diversity, I do mean what most people assume — the representation of women and underrepresented minorities. But I also mean individual diversity — the breadth of experience of an individual engineer. Both, I believe, are critical.

"If we do not have a diverse workforce, we limit the set of life experiences that team will have. As a result, we pay an opportunity cost — a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, in constraints not understood, in processes not invented."

Unfortunately, Wulf said, American women do not go into engineering, despite high starting salaries, because of its image as an uncreative profession — represented by the "incorrect caricature" of the dry-as-dust, bespectacled, pocket-protected male engineer. And, he asserted, "This is a problem that we must solve."

The National Academy of Engineering is contributing to change in a number of ways, among these, by making contributions to engineering education a criterion for election to the Academy and by establishing a new $500,000 prize for contributions to engineering education, mirroring an existing prize for engineering innovation. Wulf is also hoping to create a center at the Academy for scholarship on engineering education.

His message on changing the negative image of engineering to attract women to the profession was embraced by the audience. Suzanne Franks, director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at Kansas State University, Manhattan, commented, to laughter and applause, "One of the things we talked about in our session today — and I have heard it come up in other contexts — is the fact that there are TV shows that highlight the professions of medicine and law as being very exciting, very rewarding, very sexy kinds of places to be. I personally think if we had L.A. Engineer on TV, this would go a long way."

A National Policy Perspective

Speaking at the closing of the symposium, Representative Connie Morella (R-Md.) asserted that the success of women in science relies on partnerships. "For us to succeed in this endeavor and in so many others, it is necessary for us to have a partnership of the public sector, the private sector and academia."

Morella has focused her legislative efforts on scientific research and development, education, the federal workforce, equity for women and the environment. In 1998 she authored legislation establishing the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology (on which alumna Jill Sideman served), and continues to support efforts to increase the representation of women, minorities and people with disabilities in the science and technology workforce.

She noted that women have made strides in areas such as law and medicine, "But we need to do more with science, engineering and technology."

As evidence, she reviewed the findings of the multidisciplinary Commission, including statistics reflecting the dearth of women and minorities in these fields.

"These figures are unacceptable. I think it’s imperative that we understand the diversity challenge, and meet that challenge by learning and by practicing how to recruit and how to retain women and minorities in the science, engineering and technology fields."

Morella quoted a key conclusion of the Commission: "‘Redressing this imbalance is an economic and social imperative. Our increasingly diverse nation can only prosper on a broad foundation of human talent in order to maintain leadership in an increasingly global economy.’"

In response, she said, a coalition of nine federal agencies led by the National Science Foundation has provided $2.2 million in seed funding to establish a public-private partnership to carry on the work of the Commission. Called BEST — Building Engineering and Scientific Talent — the partnership will spearhead a three-year national campaign by establishing itself as the national hub for identifying and sharing best practices in building a stronger, more diverse technical workforce. In its formative stages, San-Diego-based BEST "will be a resource for any institution or community that wishes to meet the diversity challenge."

Looking Back, Going Forward

The College is enthusiastic about the results of the symposium. "We were delighted by the quality of presentations and discussions," says Ruth Lindeborg ’80, who coordinated the planning and organization of the symposium. "Many participants commented on the value of the symposium — in particular, the value of bringing together women who work in education with those working in the private sector."

A number of groups on campus are mapping out ways in which the College can respond to proposals made by the various working groups, Lindeborg says, "some in research, such as how science curricula might better respond to varied learning styles, and others in programs for students, such as introducing students to a wider range of career options in science and technology. We also are looking at the leadership role the College can play in the larger community to promote gender equity in science and technology."

Lindeborg added that the College has begun work on the proceedings, and is exploring the possibility of a Web site dedicated to women in science.

In her closing remarks, Sideman reiterated one of her opening comments — that things have not changed much for women in science since the ’60s. And she echoed many of the feelings expressed by participants over the preceding two days. "We have a changing landscape now, and I think that if we all work together and all contribute, we can make change happen. We have an opportunity — this is a new century — and we can make real change as women in science."

Symposium Participants

More than 120 distinguished women and men from business, education, government and industry participated in the Bryn Mawr College Women in Science Symposium. The following individuals served as speakers, workshop conveners and moderators, and panelists.

Lisa Bievenue, Education Research Associate, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

Amy Bug, Associate Professor of Physics, Swarthmore College

Catherine Didion, Executive Director, Association of Women in Science

Julie Sheridan Eng ’88, Director, New Product Development, Agere Technologies

Natalie Feilchenfeld ’79, Technical Team Leader, Silicon Germanium Technology Development, IBM Microelectronics

Susan Fitzpatrick, Senior Scientist, Women’s Health Research Institute, Wyeth Ayerst Research

Suzanne E. Franks, Director, Women in Science and Engineering Program, Kansas State University

Susan Graham, Director of New Business Development, Adhesives and

Sealants, Rohm & Haas Company

Priscilla Perkins Grew ’62, Professor of Geosciences and Former Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska

Paul Grobstein, Eleanor A. Bliss Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Science in Society, Bryn Mawr College

Jong-On Hahm, Director, Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, National Research Council

Janice Hicks ’80, Program Director, Analytical and Surface Chemistry, National Science Foundation

Toby Horn ’72, DC ACTS, Office of Academic Services, District of Columbia Public Schools

Jane Butler Kahle, Condit Professor of Science Education, Miami University, and Senior Adviser, Directorate of Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation

Maria-Luisa Maccecchini, CEO, Annovis Inc.

Elizabeth McCormack, Associate Professor of Physics on the Rosalyn R. Schwartz Lectureship, Bryn Mawr College

Rebecca Mercuri, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Bryn Mawr College

U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md.

Maria Pellegrini, Program Director, W.M. Keck Foundation, and former Professor of Biology and Dean of Research, College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, University of Southern California

Lori Perine ’80, CEO, Interpretech LLC, and former Deputy to the Associate Director, Technology, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Whitney Quesenbery ’76, Senior Vice President for Design, Cognetics Corporation

J. Pari Sabety ’79, Director, Technology Policy Group, Ohio Supercomputing Center

Maxine Savitz ’58, former Director of Technology Partnerships, Honeywell Corporation, and Member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Science Board

Jill Sideman, M.A. ’63, Ph.D. ’65, Director and Vice President, CH2M HILL Companies Ltd., President-Elect, Association of Women in Science, and Member, Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology

Anne M. Thompson, Ph.D. ’78, Astrophysicist, Atmospheric Chemistry and

Dynamics Branch, NASA Goddard Space Center

Nancy J. Vickers, Ph.D., President, Bryn Mawr College

William Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering

Kim Ann Zajack, Director of Pre-College Programs, The Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering, Rutgers University

About the Author

Dorothy Wright contributes news and feature articles on science, technology, engineering and general interest topics to a variety of publications, including Civil Engineering, Engineering News Record and Bryn Mawr Now.

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