Bryn Mawr College
chose to organize this symposium for a number of reasons.
It has always been the mission of this College and
this hearkens back to the early days of M. Carey Thomas
and to her debates with the President of Harvard
to challenge young women to excel in all fields of study.
Although I am a scholar of the humanities, educated first
in a womens college and indeed quite prejudiced about
the continuing importance of the humanities, it is clear
to me that today and in todays world, one of the truly
distinctive contributions of Bryn Mawr and of other womens
colleges is in the areas of science and mathematics.
With our particular
focus on the education of women, these institutions have
done an exceptional job of preparing students for advanced
education or careers in science, engineering and technology.
In addition to high expectations, womens colleges
offer their students multiple examples of women who have
succeeded in science. I am so proud to say we have a wonderful
cohort of women faculty members in our science departments,
in our laboratories and among our graduates. As a result,
an unusually high proportion of our students major in science
and mathematics, and they go on to pursue advanced degrees
in these fields at high rates as well. Our record demonstrates
that women can be engaged in science, counter to arguments
that women are underrepresented because they are not interested
or do not like it. At Bryn Mawr, women certainly do like
it, and we move our students forward in science in substantial
numbers and with great success.
While we are
justly proud of these facts, they highlight the degree to
which girls and young women in general do not pursue these
fields. In college, where women are in the majority, potential
female scientists and engineers continue to be underrepresented,
and in some fields the situation is getting worse. The figures
in computer science, for example, are particularly troubling.
In 1984 when the field was relatively new, women earned
37 percent of undergraduate degrees. By 1999 the number
had dropped to less than 20 percent. This very problematic
development was recently cited by Dr. Rita Colwell, National
Science Foundation Director, as a cause for particular concern.
As a community of educators we need to do more to improve
this situation and must concern ourselves with both ends
of the pipeline.
We are, of course,
concerned about the careers of our graduates, and in that
regard, the status of women in the science, engineering
and technology workplace also must improve. Even with the
bursting of the high-tech balloon, there is little question
that this arena will be central to the future growth of
the American economy, indeed the global economy.
a recent report by the Congressional Commission on the Advancement
of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology
(2000), leaders in many fields are warning of a critical
shortage of skilled American workers in these areas. The
report pointed out that this shortage is due in large part
to a national failure to give much of our population
women and minorities in particular appropriate educational
opportunities and encouragement in science, engineering
and technology, and a similar failure to bring them into
the workforce, and to retain them. The United States cannot
afford to disregard the talent and potential contributions
of women, half our population, in science and technology.
Although there has been progress in many areas over the
past 30 years, it is still the norm to find us underrepresented.
You know better
than I that there is no single or simple solution to these
problems. Indeed most of you have been thinking about them
much longer than I have. I hope the Proceedings of
this conference can enrich our understanding of the continuous
and interrelated worlds of the classroom and the workplace,
and explore some possible ways we might proceed individually,
institutionally and collectively to improve the situation.
Nancy J. Vickers
President, Bryn Mawr College