Leaders, educators help engineer future workforce

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Keri Mesirow, UCCS biology instructor, helps Raegan Petch, a 13-year-old Challenger Middle School student, prepare an experiment of extracting DNA from strawberries.

In the past 30 years, women have caught up to men in the professions of business, law and medical sciences. But they have not made the same gains in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A group of Colorado Springs business leaders and educators aim to change those numbers. For the third year, the group organized Girls STEM Day at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, an event that brought in 350 middle-school girls for hands-on science and math activities. The girls also had a chance to meet women working in STEM fields, including Jerri Marr, U.S. Forest Supervisor of Pike and San Isabel National Forests, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands.

“Our goal is to spark their interests in these subjects,” said Queen Brown, owner of Queen E. Brown and Associates Management Consultants and math instructor at the University of Phoenix. She’s also one of the UCCS Girls STEM Day organizers.

The National Science Foundation estimates 5 million people work in science, technology and engineering — only about 4 percent of the workforce. But STEM professions are widely regarded as critical to innovation, productivity and the national economy, a recent American Association of University Women report said.

In 1991, the AAUW published “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” a report that outlined how girls start to fall behind in math and science by middle school. The report was the basis for a focused approach of science and math for girls, including girls math camps, space camps and CEO camps. Back then, there were 13 boys for every girl who scored above 700 on the SAT in mathematics. Today, that gap has closed to 3 to 1.

In 2010, an AAUW report “Why So Few” showed that girls today take math and science courses at the same rate as boys all the way through middle school and high school. However, young women are not choosing STEM as college majors. Women earn 20 percent of all physics, engineering and computer science bachelor degrees.

Social and environmental factors still may be the cause, the report said. Bias toward girls in science and math, and girls’ own self-assessment of their progress in those courses, contribute to the underrepresentation of women in science and engineering, the AAUW report said.

“(Girls) are still not necessarily encouraged toward STEM,” Brown said.

In a survey following last year’s Girls STEM Day, Colorado Springs girls reported that they are told by their brothers and male peers that girls are not as good as boys in math and science, Brown said.

AAUW recommends that parents and educators be aware of their bias about girls and math and science studies and should take proactive steps to support women in STEM, the report said. The Girls STEM Day at UCCS was born following those AAUW recommendations, Brown said.

Girls need to meet women who have made careers in STEM fields and hear from them that they can do it too, Brown said.

“Once their attitude changes, it means the sky is the limit,” Brown said.

Marr told the girls that she was not a superstar student in grade school. But she loved being outdoors and that led her to pursue a degree in forestry, she said. She encouraged the girls to have confidence to try lots of activities and courses.

Marr surveyed the group of girls during her opening remarks at Girls STEM Day and said she knew she was looking at future foresters, scientists and astronauts. One girl told her she wanted to be an entomologist.

“You are great,” she told the girls. “Say it with me.”

A strong science and math academic background opens more career opportunities for women, said Lindy Conter, a retired attorney. STEM professions will help women be more economically sufficient and close the pay gap. Everyone, she said, needs to be focused on helping more students find their way to STEM careers.

The 2012 Colorado Innovation Index report released in August said the state has strong diverse industry clusters especially in the areas of aerospace, bioscience and medical devices. And while Colorado exceeds the national average for STEM degree attainment, the numbers have declined in the past decade, the report said.

In 2000-2001, 16 percent of degrees granted in Colorado were in STEM fields; that declined to 12 percent in 2008-2009.

“Colorado went from being a leader in this category to the middle of the pack among its peers,” the report said.

Inside one of the UCCS labs on Girls STEM Day, girls learned how to extract DNA from a strawberry. Raegan Petch, 13, a Challenger Middle School student, enjoyed the experiment and said she will need to learn all she can about DNA.

“I want to be a veterinarian,” she said.

Women and STEM

Women earn 20 percent of all bachelor degrees in physics, engineering and computer science.

2018 workforce projections show 9 of 10 of the fastest growing occupations that mandate bachelor degrees require significant scientific or mathematical training.

Science and engineering occupations are predicted to grow faster than the average rate of all other occupations, and some of the largest increases will be in engineering and computer-related fields.

Sources: American Association of University Women 2010 “Why so Few” report; The National Science Foundation; and the U.S. Department of Labor

Why it matters

“Engineers design things people use daily — including buildings, bridges, computers, cars, wheelchairs and X-ray machines. When women are not involved in the design of these products, needs of women may be overlooked. Consider some of the early voice-recognition systems; they were calibrated to typical male voices. Women’s voices were unheard.

. . . A group of mostly male engineers tailored the first generation of automobile airbags to adult male bodies, resulting in deaths of women and children.” — AAUW 2010 “Why So Few” report.

Sources: American Association of University Women 2010 “Why so Few” report; The National Science Foundation; and the U.S. Department of Labor

2 Responses to Leaders, educators help engineer future workforce

  1. “A group of mostly male engineers tailored the first generation of automobile airbags to adult male bodies…”

    This is because the typical driver is male, as men account for most of the hours driven on the road (see http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/bar8.htm ). To create such devices for mass-production only smaller and lighter would have resulted in many men being killed too, as the bags would not have done their job adequately.

    But according to feminist thinking, to see 100 men killed in order to spare the lives of 80 women and children is fine. Hell, it’s positively desirable!

    Matt
    October 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm

  2. “Women earn 20 percent of all bachelor degrees in physics, engineering and computer science.”

    And yet, women earn 60% of all bachlors in general. But I suppose this doesn’t matter. Equality isn’t about men and women balancing out, is it? It’s about women being equal or dominant in all fields. And if you need to start focusing to get there, so be it.

    “2018 workforce projections show 9 of 10 of the fastest growing occupations that mandate bachelor degrees require significant scientific or mathematical training.”

    And of those occupations that don’t need a bachelor? or those that need a doctorate? What about those fields? How may of those occupations are already female dominated? What is being done to balance out those female dominated fields, such as nursing and doctors?

    Focusing your criteria, manipulating the perceptions with the data you present or lave out, so they come out appearing in your favour is a dishonest tactic. Women already outnumber men in higher education, driving more men out to make room for women is not equality.

    Mark Neil
    October 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm