EDUCATION WORKSHOP III PREPARING WOMEN STEM MAJORS
How can colleges
and universities prepare women to succeed in math and science
as undergraduates? In graduate school? In an expanding science
and technology workplace?
Technical Team Leader, Silicon Germanium Technology Development,
Toby M. Horn
Consultant, District of Columbia Public Schools DC
ACTS. Former Coordinator for Biotechnology Outreach, Fralin
Biotechnology Center, Virginia Tech
Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Bryn Mawr College
in this workshop fall into three broad categories what
young women must learn to persist in STEM, how they can best
learn (in terms of pedagogy and institutional settings), and
how institutions can help sustain womens interests and
ambitions in STEM fields.
Although this workshop
specifically concerned the persistence of young women in STEM
fields as undergraduates and in postgraduate work/study, many
of the recommendations were made for implementation in K-12
education as well. In framing issues of girls persistence
in math and science as a continuum, the recommendations offered
here illustrate opportunities to share successes across what
is often experienced as a great divide between undergraduate
and K-12 instruction. Many strategies to engage girls in math
and science and support those interests are effective across
a relatively wide age spectrum (e.g. mentoring, cooperative
learning), as long as they are adapted to the needs and interests
of those served.
In making the following
recommendations, participants also recognized that some STEM
fields are moving targets, and that teaching, mentoring and
career information must continually evolve to keep up with
- As a number
of studies have documented, young women (as a population)
enjoy learning science, math, engineering and technology
when they have opportunities to learn through:
a. Cooperative groups;
b. Solving problems to help society;
c. Communication with others
In order to increase the number and
persistence of young women in STEM fields, departments
and faculty should respond to these preferences in systematic
- Math is key
to success in STEM careers. Persisting in K-12 math leaves
the option of a STEM major open to young women; continuing
with math, even if not a STEM major, creates opportunities
for college graduates to move into STEM organizations.
Project Kaleidoscope programs have helped change and continue
to change how math is taught at the college level to provide
more context-based and cooperative learning. As noted above,
several studies have demonstrated that such pedagogy makes
math more appealing to many females and many members of
underrepresented groups. Advocates of improving the persistence
of girls/young women in STEM should work to increase number
of college-level math programs using this approach and to
help adapt and disseminate this pedagogy to K-12 math teachers.
- Liberal arts
colleges and womens colleges have the best potential
to produce more majors in these fields because they do not
have "gatekeeper" classes designed to exclude
the majority of introductory students from a majors pathway.
- Women are lagging
further behind in computer science. STEM courses should
provide opportunities to make connections to applications
of computer science.
- Faculty must
have the same high expectations for young women in STEM
fields as they have for men.
- The Internet
can play an important role in increasing girls and
young womens access to different approaches to science
and technology mentoring and career information. Participants
noted in particular the potential of MentorNet as a source
and model of online mentoring.
advocated development of a Web site, perhaps hosted by Bryn
Mawr, that would connect young women to a database of information
about women who have careers in STEM and provide links to
other Web sites profiling other successful women in STEM
fields (e.g. SACNAS).
recommended that the database use a structured interview
format, including questions that would be of particular
interest to younger women (e.g. what is your day like? What
were your interests in high school and college? Who influenced
you?) as well as those focused upon more traditional career
information (How did you become interested in your field?
What do you like about it? What if any barriers did you
have to overcome? What has contributed most to your success?)