Women in STEM Guide
By ACO Staff
Published on September 11, 2021
Women in STEM: Bridging the Gap
Despite an increase in awareness regarding gender inequity, women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. The good news is that more companies are recruiting women for STEM positions than ever before. The following guide introduces the issues surrounding the lack of women in STEM fields and serves as a resource for girls and young women who are interested in pursuing careers in STEM. It includes in-depth research and interviews covering the most popular degrees for women currently entering a STEM field, how campuses are making an effort to foster a welcoming environment for women, female STEM pioneers and experts in the field today, and scholarships for women in STEM.
"One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields, and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to."President Barack Obama, February 2013
Attracting Girls to STEM
Schools and communities need to create STEM programming that engages girls earlier in their elementary and secondary-school education to shift the current dynamic. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's STEM Gateways Act is an attempt to provide federal grants for programs in elementary, middle and high school, with the goal of creating opportunities in STEM fields for girls, minorities and children from all economic backgrounds. It includes after-school opportunities and supports career exploration and workforce training for high school students. Across the country, schools and communities have begun adopting programs and initiatives to attract more girls to STEM, as early in their academic careers as possible.
- The American Association of University Women
AAUW has committed to building a STEM Pipeline for Girls and Women with a multipronged strategy that includes research, programs for girls and investing in STEM education where women have been fundamentally misrepresented.
- Million Women Mentors
MWM is an engagement campaign and national call-to-action that seeks to engage higher education groups, corporations, nonprofit organizations and the government to create mentoring opportunities for girls and young women in STEM fields. It aims to counter negative stereotypes and give young women the confidence to pursue STEM education.
- National Girls Education Project
NGEP is dedicated to bringing together organizations to maximize STEM resources for school counselors that they can share with female students. The group is also focused on delivering information and resources through webinars, mini-grants and professional development forums.
- Girls Go Techbridge
Various Girl Scout Councils throughout the country partner with Girls Go Techbridge, offering "Programs in a Box." These boxes store all the materials necessary to implement STEM lessons to groups of up to 10 girls, including leader guides, activities and icebreakers.
- Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program
A four-week residential program each July for female high school students that provides the opportunity to do hands-on research with Smith faculty in life/physical sciences and engineering.
- It's a Girl Thing
Texas Tech University offer K-8 and high school students a residential camping experience while experiencing university life, recreational activities and hands-on classes ranging from nano-energy to animal science.
- Survey the World of Engineering
High school students can participate in a one-week camp for young women to develop creativity and visit corporate engineering plants to meet professional engineers.
- G.R.A.D.E. CAMP
Girls entering 8th to 12th grade can find out what engineering is all about in this program that emphasizes career exposure rather than career choice, working in teams and gaining valuable insight from Houston-area female engineers.
- CURIE Academy
Several schools, including Cornell, Rutgers and the College of New Jersey, sponsor CURIE Academy, a one-week summer residential program for high school girls who excel in math and science.
Girls entering 5th through 9th grade are invited to Girlgeneering at the University of Texas at Arlington. The camp strives to increase the interest of high ability young women in a career in engineering by combating stereotypes, creating connections, reducing the issue of competition for resources with boys, and demonstrating the real-world social impact of engineering.
Spotlight on: Pretty Brainy
Pretty Brainy inspires girls academically and professionally, with the goal of helping them to gain the confidence to deepen their knowledge in STEM. The organization promotes the enhancement of learning, critical thinking and student engagement, focusing on problem-solving, risk-taking and innovation. The Colorado nonprofit was founded on the following principles:
Keep girls as strong and confident in their STEAM abilities in middle and high school as they are in elementary school.
Stamp out, for all time, notions that girls "can't do math" and aren't interested in the "hard" sciences.
Equip girls with the STEAM learning each one needs to believe in the beauty of her dreams and pursue her greatest ambitions.
Pretty Brainy offers several workshops including Pretty Brilliant, where middle and high school girls team up with university students to design the lighting for a Habitat for Humanity home for a single mother and her children. Other programs include Textiles + TechStyles: Electronic Textiles and Design Thinking and Textiles + TechStyles: E-Textile Jewelry Design.
Educators can order Fashionably Mashes: The Stem of Fashion Design, a teacher-designed learning kit to successfully engage students underrepresented in STEM learning. The kit is designed to help teachers implement lessons that show designers are knowledgeable about math, science, technology, history, environmental studies, human behavior, art and more.
How Parents Can Encourage Their Daughters in STEM
Once the community outreach manager for Techbridge, a program that inspires girls to live up to their full STEM potential, Molly Larkin offers advice for parents to encourage their daughters to get into STEM and to foster a love of learning:
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STEM Scholarships for Women
This $6,000 scholarship encourages young minority women to pursue an education and career in the geosciences, such as geology, geochemistry, earth science education, physical oceanography, geophysics, meteorology, planetary geology or hydrology programs. Award recipients get financial aid and are matched with a mentor in the same field, who provides guidance and support. The deadline to apply for this award is June 30.
Established in 1989 at her bequest, the Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL) seeks “to encourage women to enter, study, graduate and teach” in science, mathematics and engineering. Grants are not made directly to individuals, but to four-year degree-granting institutions, with preference given to women in the physical science and engineering fields in which women are the most underrepresented. Fifty percent or more of the annual scholarships are awarded to students studying at colleges or universities affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The Arlene Bartlow Endowment Fund $1,000 renewable scholarship is for Girl Scout Gold Award recipients accepted for undergraduate study in the College of Arts and Sciences or Case School of Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University $1,500 scholarship in Daytona Beach, Florida is also for Girl Scout Gold Award recipients with at least a 3.5 average in high school.
This $2,000 renewable scholarship for female students at Temple University Ambler requires that applicants must have been in Girl Scouting at least five years, be enrolled in the School for Environmental Design and study horticulture or landscape architecture design.
Specifically for women who put their work toward a doctoral degree in science on hold for their families, this fellowship awards a one year $45,000 which may be applied toward dependent care, salary, travel, tuition and fees. Applicants must have previously completed work toward a PhD and be a legal U.S. citizen. Applications deadline is June 1.
Established by Paul R. Jones in memory of his wife, this $1,500 scholarship is awarded for female undergraduate majors in chemistry or related disciplines beginning their junior or senior years of study to be used for tuition, books and lab fees. To be eligible for this award, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, junior or senior female undergraduate student enrolled full-time at an accredited college or university majoring in chemistry or chemistry-related science, and able to demonstrate evidence of financial need. The current deadline is May 1.
The Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Scholarship was instituted in memory of Hyman, one of America's foremost invertebrate zoologists. Also known as the Hyman Scholarship, it is intended to provide assistance to students taking courses or conducting research on invertebrates at a marine, freshwater or terrestrial field station. Awards range from $750 to $1,000.
The ACS Women Chemists Committee (WCC) and Eli Lilly and Company sponsor a program to provide funding for one individual per research group to travel to meetings to present the results of their research. Awards are made on the basis of scientific merit and financial need to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral female chemists, with preference given to an applicant making her first presentation at a national or major meeting and to graduate or postdoctoral applicants who have not presented at a national or major meeting since completing their undergraduate degree. Funds may be applied only for registration, travel and accommodations, for meetings within the United States. Application deadlines are September 15 and February 15 for meetings the following year.
The Women Divers Hall of Fame offers multiple scholarship and grant opportunities for women. The Cecilia Connelly Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship in Underwater Archeology pledges $750 to an undergraduate female student enrolled in an accredited course of study in the field of underwater archaeology. The scholarship is intended for college tuition/fees or field study costs and is open to candidates worldwide. WDHOF Undergraduate Scholarship in Marine Conservation awards $1,000 to an undergraduate woman who enrolled in an accredited academic or research program in the field of marine conservation. The scholarship is intended for college tuition/fees or to support independent research or an internship program at an accredited university. Deadline for scholarships is November 28.
With an application deadline of May 15, this scholarship is for incoming college freshmen pursing either a bachelor’s in computer science or computer engineering. Open only to women, applicants must also have a 3.5 GPA, be enrolled full-time and be U.S. citizens. The scholarships are awarded through the Society of Women Engineers.
This non-renewable scholarship offers funding to students studying at University of Maryland and Syracuse University who are pursuing careers in the IT industry. To be eligible, a student must be a take 12 credits or more, be a junior or above, demonstrate financial need, have a minimum of 3.0 cumulative GPA, major in some aspect of IT or a related field, and have a letter of reference from a professor. Preference is given to U.S. citizens. Students may request applications in the financial aid offices of the Universities.
The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) grants a variety of scholarships for travel, education and research. Qualifying for these grants depends on specific types of education in computer science. Applications are due February 1 for most awards, with some awards having additional deadlines May 1 and October 1.
This full scholarship aims to help women who are seeking a college education in the computer and information fields. These scholarships are given to high school seniors who plan to attend University of Maryland Baltimore County. The scholarship covers the student for all four years of undergraduate study. Eligible fields include computer science, chemical engineering, biological engineering, computer information systems and mechanical engineering. Deadline is January 15.
Both of these awards are given to women who are currently enrolled in programs related to technology fields, and who have displayed proven leadership skills. Besides the monetary award, students who receive the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarships are invited to a Google retreat to network with their peers.
These $15,000 to $20,000 scholarships are awarded to high school seniors and undergraduate college students. To qualify, women must be actively pursuing a career in a technology related field. Awards can be used towards research, lab fees and travel. Applications occur annually in October.
Four $5,000 scholarships are offered to freshmen, sophomore and junior students with US citizenship who major in computer engineering at one of the 52 colleges listed on the application.
Applied Security Associates offers grants for women studying cyber-security. Women may receive scholarships for their third or fourth year of undergraduate studies, or for a master’s program. Applicants must be accepted at or enrolled in a U.S. university. Preference will be given to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. An applicant must write an essay describing her interest and background in the information security field, and provide transcripts. The scholarship is renewable for a second year, given proof of satisfactory academic progress. Applications accepted until Feb. 25. Winners receive funds paid directly to your account at your university for tuition, books, etc. Scholarship winners will be invited to attend security conferences held by ACSA and HP (expenses will be paid for winners who choose to attend) and will have opportunities to participate in career mentoring programs organized by the CRA-W. Some scholarship winners may also be offered summer internships with HP.
College-bound women pursuing a career in computer science, information technology or management information systems may apply for this $2,500 scholarship from Visionary Integration Professionals. Candidates will be evaluated on academics, involvement, leadership and essays, and applications are due in March.
The Engineering and Technical Science Achievement Scholarship offered by Alpha Omega Epsilon is awarded to women studying in engineering or related fields. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) awards a $7,000 per year renewable scholarship once every four to five years for a student in engineering.
The American Physical Society and IBM co-sponsor a research internship program for undergraduate women to encourage women students to pursue graduate studies in science and engineering. The internships are salaried positions – typically 10 weeks – located at one of three IBM research locations (San Jose, CA, Austin, TX, or Yorktown Heights, NY), and give the opportunity to work closely with an IBM mentor. To apply, student must be female with sophomore or junior standing at a U.S. college or university at the time of application. She must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. There is no citizenship restriction. Applications are due February 15.
Society of Women Engineers (SWE) awards two $1,500 scholarships to freshmen studying engineering or engineering technology.
Five $1,000 scholarships are offered to freshmen, sophomore and junior students with U.S. citizenship from under-represented groups; disabled and veteran candidates preferred. These schools are preferred: Bradley University, UIC, IIT, UIUC, UMBC, University of Maryland College Park, Morgan State, Penn State and Purdue, and students must be pursuing computer, mathematical, or electrical engineering degrees.
Women and minority undergraduates planning on becoming public planners are eligible for need-based awards ranging from $2,000 to $4,000. To apply, students must either be enrolled or have official acceptance from a school accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board. Deadline is April 30.
This scholarship is awarded to undergraduate women attending full-time who have completed at least 30 semester credits in an engineering field related to manufacturing engineering in an accredited college or university in the United States. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Society of Women Engineers (SWE) awards four $3,000 scholarships to undergraduate students in engineering majors. Architectural engineering and environmental engineering students are preferred.
Grants from the SWE are awarded to women studying engineering, computer science or engineering technology. Applicants must already be admitted to undergraduate or graduate programs that have been accredited by the ABET/CSAB.
These $2,000 scholarships are awarded to freshman women engineering students. To be eligible, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
To encourage both women and minorities to enter the engineering workforce, YouthForce awards five high school seniors preparing to study in an engineering field related to construction $8,000 scholarships/internships each year. To be eligible, applicants must have at least a 2.80 GPA, SAT scores of at least 1600 and be accepted into an engineering department. The award is renewable; the student must maintain a 2.80 GPA and major in civil/electrical/environmental/mechanical engineering, construction management or architecture. The four-year internship at Turner begins immediately following the first full year of college.
The American Association of University Women promotes economic and educational equality for women. The Association provides a Selected Professions Fellowship for women to pursue graduate degrees in mathematics and other STEM fields.
Awards range from $5,000 to $18,000. Applicants must be United States citizens or permanent residents and enrolled as full-time students during the year of the award.
The United States Department of Homeland Security sponsors a 10-week summer internship program for college students in their junior and senior years of study in homeland security-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The program awards a stipend of $6,000 ($600 per week) or $7,000 ($700 per week) for graduate students, plus one-time transportation between their home and designated research facility. Eligible applicants are U.S. citizens who are full-time students at an American college or university with a GPA of at least 3.30, majoring in a STEM field and interested in homeland security research.
Each year, the Intel Corporation hosts a talent search, which gives high school seniors the opportunity to compete for more than $1.25 million in scholarships. Only American high school seniors are eligible to apply for an Intel Talent Search Scholarship. Applicants must conduct an original research experiment in science, technology, engineering or mathematics and submit their work for the competition. Intel chooses 40 finalists out of the approximately 1,600 entries it receives each year. Each finalist is given an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. and the opportunity to meet with United States government officials and leading scientists. Prizes are awarded in three categories and range from $35,000 to $150,000.
The Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service is sponsored by the National Defense Education Program. Applicants must be college and university students currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate STEM-field program. To be eligible, students participate in summer internships at designated Department of Defense research facilities and commit to a term of employment with the department upon graduation from their academic program. Scholarship recipients are awarded full tuition and institutional fees, a textbook allowance, a personal expense stipend, health insurance reimbursement, paid summer internships and employment placement after graduation.
NCTM gives one current sophomore-level student a scholarship up to $10,000, paid in $5,000 increments during the junior and senior years of full-time study in secondary math education. Applicants must be student members of NCTM. The application includes a written proposal detailing the student’s academic achievements in math and math education, an essay on the student’s desire to become a teacher of mathematics at their chosen grade level, and academic, professional and personal letters of recommendation.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or NCTM, awards one junior-level, full-time math education student $3,000 to be used for educational expenses during the subsequent academic year. Applicants for must be student members of NCTM. The application includes a written proposal detailing the student’s academic achievements in the area of math and math education, an essay on the student’s desire to become a teacher of mathematics at her chosen grade level, and academic, professional and personal letters of recommendation.
Scholarships in the amount of $3,000 are awarded by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) to full-time graduate students working toward a master's degree in electrical, electronics, chemical, systems or communications engineering; physics; mathematics; computer science; technology management; or information technology. Majors directly related U.S. intelligence or national security relevant to the mission of AFCEA are also eligible. Candidates must be U.S. citizens enrolled full-time in a master's degree program at an accredited university in the United States. Students with demonstrated academic excellence will receive primary consideration. Deadline to apply is November 15.
The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) awards the Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize annually to an undergraduate woman for excellence in mathematics. All members of the mathematical community are invited to submit nominations for the prize. To be eligible, a nominee may be at any level in her undergraduate career but must be an undergraduate when nominated. She must either be a U.S. citizen or have a school address in the United States. The nomination deadline is October 1.
AFCEA offers scholarships of $5,000 for undergraduate or graduate-level candidates in STEM majors. Students must attend an accredited four-year college or university in the U.S. full-time, be a U.S. citizen, and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. These awards are only given to students studying in certain STEM fields, and applications are due by November 15.
Degree Trends for Women in STEM
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the top STEM sectors for women are biological sciences, computer science/technology, engineering and math. The number of women entering professions in some of these sectors is on the rise, while other sectors continue to show disproportionate numbers. Based on their research, the NCES has made predictions regarding where the numbers appear to be heading in the next 15-20 years.
Fraction of Bachelor's Degrees in STEM Disciplines Earned by Women
STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
More women major in the biological sciences than any other STEM field. In fact, women earn over half of the bachelor's degrees awarded in the biological sciences – about 59 percent. Despite these relatively high numbers, there are gender-based gaps in class participation and achievement. Researchers with Arizona State University and the University of Washington found even with similar GPAs, female students scored 2.9 percent lower than male students on exams. When asked questions by the instructor, 63 percent of males volunteered responses although they only comprised 40 percent of the classroom.
Dr. Penny Rheingans, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of Maryland, acknowledges that, while all students may stumble, young women often have a more difficult time brushing themselves off. "It's what happens next that's important. Women tend to internalize mistakes while male students are more likely to blame the exam."
There was a 79 percent decline in the number of first year undergraduate women interested in a computer science major between 2000 and 2011. Recruiting women is a critical issue, but so is retaining them. Women's quit rate in technology exceeds that of other science and engineering fields. Stanford University reports that a full 56 percent of women leaving technology positions at the mid-level point in their careers. Experts believe that intervention could stop many women from leaving the field, and add 220,000 women to the IT workforce.
"We lose as a society if we have the creativity and passion and intelligence of only half the population,"Valerie Barr, executive committee member of the Association for Computing Machinery's Committee of Women (ACM-W).
"STEM jobs are among the highest paid jobs out there right now. Why should women not have an equal opportunity to get those jobs and become high earners?"
Mathematics and Statistics
Females earn 41.9 percent of mathematics and statistics degrees, with this figure holding steady over the past decade. Even with the high number of women mathematics graduates, their numbers in the workplace remain low. Many women who major in math go into teaching. Allison Miller, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics says, "in my experience, women who like math either major in engineering or get a graduate degree in mathematics and teach. I think most women who do choose to major in math plan to teach. Both of my graduate classes were predominantly women."
Colleges and universities are making an effort to recruit mathematics majors, discovering mentors and strong role models make a difference. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is currently hiring more female faculty in their mathematics departments, hoping the change will result in higher enrollment numbers.
Though the percentage of female engineering graduates is 19.3 percent, only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) reports that one-third of women working in the field do so as software engineers. Females are employed in higher rates than males in environmental engineering and chemical engineering, and are less likely to be employed in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.
Studies show that a large percentage of women who decide not to practice engineering end up obtaining another degree or following a different career path. What reasons do women give for leaving the profession? In one study, the most common responses were a lack of interest in engineering and a dislike of the "engineering culture."
Best Careers for Women in STEM
The range of STEM career options for women are as extensive as they are for men in areas like technology, research, finance and healthcare. While the opportunities may be there, the numbers in the workplace don’t always reflect gender parity. U.S. News and World Report claims that recruiter perceptions may remain clouded by the myth that women have lower skill sets or less aptitude for STEM fields. False perceptions among women that STEM work must be boring may also have an impact on college recruiters or employers. Opportunities for women are increasing, however.
Top 10 Emerging STEM Fields for Women
|1. Software||6. School Psychology|
|2. Computer Systems||7. Mechanical Engineering|
|3. Information Security||8. Operations Research|
|4. Web Development||9. IT Manager|
|5. Accounting||10. Civil Engineering|
The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) recently conducted a study on women in STEM fields, publishing the findings in its State of Girls and Women in STEM. While women make up 47 percent of the general workforce, the numbers are much smaller when broken down across various STEM careers.
Percentage of Women in STEM Fields
The NGCP project also employed National Science Foundation statistics to discover gender disparities for women and minorities at the undergraduate STEM levels. Women earned 50 percent of science and engineering degrees at the baccalaureate level, with women encompassing more than 50 percent of the undergraduate class in the biological sciences. However, women graduate with fewer BS degrees in computer sciences (18 percent), engineering (19 percent), and physics (19 percent). Consequently, the jobs with the greatest promise are vastly underrepresented by women in terms of their chosen STEM majors.
Accounting remains high among STEM employment sectors for women, according to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the study, Women in the Labor Force: a Databook for 2014, the BLS found that women made up 20 percent of software developers and 33 percent of lawyers, while 62 percent of accountants and auditors were women.
Where Can a STEM Degree Take You?
According to a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce, STEM careers are projected as the second-fasted growing industry in the United States. Use this career map to identify the top STEM careers for women, find information on average salaries for STEM jobs, learn how many women are in the field, projected job growth, and opportunities for each STEM degree listed below.
|Degree - Electrical Engineering|
|Career||Salary||Num. of Women||Job Growth|
|Electrical Engineering Technologist||$61,580||12-18%||2%|
|Degree - Computer Engineering Technology|
|Career||Salary||Num. of Women||Job Growth|
|Computer System Analyst||$82,710||34.9%||22%|
|Computer Hardware Engineer||$100,920||22.8%||7%|
|Computer Network Architect||$91,000||7.5%||15%|
|Degree - Bachelor of Science in Information Technology|
|Career||Salary||Num. of Women||Job Growth|
|Information Security Analyst||$86,170||22.8%||37%|
|Degree - Mathematical Sciences|
|Career||Salary||Num. of Women||Job Growth|
|Degree - Biological Sciences|
|Career||Salary||Num. of Women||Job Growth|
According to 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics, the following STEM careers have some of the highest earning potential out of all available STEM jobs:
Program Highlight: MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department
MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department, headed by Anantha P. Chandrakasan, provides an in-depth education in engineering principles built on mathematics, computation and the physical and life sciences. EECS blends a flexible curriculum with intensive, hands-on coursework and is the largest undergraduate program at MIT. It prepares graduates for success in a wide range of industries from software to bioengineering, and has produced some very notable female graduates in its history.
All students in the department must take two required introductory courses, exploring electrical engineering and computer science fundamentals by working on concrete systems like robots and cell phone networks and systems. Throughout the four-year program, students participate in labs, independent projects, team projects, and research on the principles and techniques of analysis, design and experimentation in various areas of electrical engineering and computer science.
The MIT EECS department has graduated many women with impressive STEM backgrounds. The following women hold undergraduate and graduate degrees from the department, and went on to become leaders in their respective fields.
Janice VossVoss was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1990. She flew in five space missions – a record for American women. She was involved in the first ever shuttle rendezvous with the Mir space station, and acted as Science Director for the Kepler Space Observatory.
Yoky MatsuokaMatsuoka is the vice president of technology and analytics at Twitter, and former vice president of technology at Nest, where she was in charge of UX and the learning aspects of Nest's thermostats. She was previously an Anna McCandless Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.
Deborah EstrinEstrin was the first hire for Cornell Tech, the new technology center on Roosevelt Island, off Manhattan. She is the founding director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) where she worked from 2002-2012, and a former professor of computer science at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Estrin is noted as a pioneer in networked sensing: using mobile and wireless systems to collect and analyze real-time data about the physical world.
Limor FriedFried is the founder and engineer of Adafruit, which makes all-original DIY electronic kits. She has been on the cover of WIRED, won the EFF pioneer award for open-source hardware, and was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Challenges Faced by Women in STEM
Though gender discrimination is not at the level it was for women in STEM in the early 19th century, it still unfortunately exists. Even in areas where women perform strongly, such as mathematics, girls are less likely to pursue a career in the field because of lack of support. Women in engineering are twice as likely to drop out of degree programs. How prevalent is the problem?
- When Yale Researchers looked at the behavior of faculty members in a study of six highly ranked research universities, they found there is indeed a clear bias against female scientists, with both male and female instructors.
- Researchers at Columbia Business School found women suffer serious discrimination in the workplace, and are less likely to be selected for new positions. Their study found both men and women were twice as likely to hire a male applicant rather than a female applicant.
- 55 percent of women in tech begin in lower-paying, entry-level positions, compared to 39 percent of men.
Experts are hopeful that outreach programs and interventions will encourage more young women to pursue STEM educations. One way to attract women to these professions is by financial compensation, one area that has seen significant improvement. Women in STEM jobs are earning 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations – a good sign. There is also less of a wage gap between men and women in STEM occupations: women earn 92 cents for every dollar made by men, compared to 77 cents in other fields.
STEM on Campus:
Clubs & Programs Just for Women
As more organizations work to recruit women into STEM fields, colleges are responding in kind by offering more options for women on-campus. Last summer, the American Colleges and Universities announced 20 schools which were selected to participate in Teaching to Increase Diversity and Equity in STEM (TIDES). The goal of the initiative is to help faculty learn how to better engage women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, particularly computer science.
Colleges and universities are also gathering feedback from women on campus about their experiences in STEM programs so that they can better understand their issues. By interviewing female students, running focus groups, and implementing surveys, schools are discovering new ways to support women through the following types of opportunities:
Programs to assist female students with math, chemistry, physics, biology and other STEM subjects are becoming popular on many campuses. Clark College established a STEM Help Center – a separate space where female faculty and tutors can meet on a drop-in or appointment basis.
Clubs and Organizations
During the past several decades, most campuses have offered STEM clubs to network with students, participate in STEM activities, and find mentors, but they haven't always targeted women. The tide is turning, with and more schools are establishing STEM clubs for women. Female students without a STEM club to join have been taking it into their own hands. Recently, a group of four students started Amherst Women in Finance, Economics and STEM, a club for female students interested in or already pursuing a degree in quantitative fields. There are also a number of national organizations related to STEM with an on-campus presence:
- American Association of University Women (AAUW)
The nation's leading voice for promoting equity and education for women and girls sponsors a campus leadership program for STEM students.
- Association for Women in Computing
Provides opportunities for professional growth through networking and programs on technical and career-oriented topics.
- Association for Women in Mathematics
Offers undergraduate and graduate chapters for female mathematicians to connect in both industry and academia.
- Association for Women in Science
Champions the interests of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics across all disciplines and employment sectors.
- Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
Not-for-profit educational and service organization that empowers women to succeed and advance in the field of engineering.
Empowers students to combat sexism in all forms, both within STEM fields and everyday life.
Interview: Dr. Wendi Hienzelman
Dr. Wendi HienzelmanBS in Electrical Engineering, Cornell University (1995) Masters in EECS, MIT (1997) PhD EECS, MIT (2000) Dr. Wendi Heinzelman began her career as an assistant professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (with a secondary appointment in the Computer Science Department). She was a Visiting Erskine Fellow at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2008, and chose her career path because she wanted to impact graduate students through her research, teaching and mentoring.
What was it about computer science and engineering that drew you to the major as an undergrad?
I always very much enjoyed my math classes. As a high school student, I took a computer science course and also really enjoyed that – I found coding to be like solving a problem and enjoyed the thrill of getting a program to work. My father is an engineer, and he encouraged me to consider engineering as a profession that applies the skills I enjoy (solving problems) to real-world problems. I had also grown up around technology, as my dad would bring us into his work (at Bell Labs) and let us “play” with the “toys” he created, such as the first voice-controlled video game called “Mouse in the Maze” that was featured for a time at Epcot in Disney. For a young girl, it was exciting to see what could be created through engineering! So with my dad’s encouragement and my exposure to engineering, I felt confident that I would not only enjoy but could be successful at a career in engineering and computer science.
Your father and uncle went to MIT. Who else encouraged you to pursue an education in computer science and engineering?
Both my father (and mother!) and my uncle encouraged me to pursue engineering, as they both had fulfilling careers as electrical engineers. I also had a wonderful AP Calculus teacher in high school who helped me really understand and appreciate calculus and built my interest in this area. But outside of this, I didn’t really have anyone who encouraged me to pursue computer science and engineering. Without my parent’s support and encouragement, I doubt I would have ended up in this field. I think we have done a better job of providing programs in high schools (and even earlier) that expose kids to engineering and show them the excitement and possibilities of a career in this field, compared to when I was in high school. However, we can always do more! Mentors are very important; I had my dad as an amazing mentor in this field, but many young girls are not as lucky as I was. We need to provide them with more contacts in engineering that they can use as sounding boards to explore their interests. I always love talking to young girls, especially, about the field of engineering and computer science and why I find it such an exciting career. I never want to try to “convince” someone to go into engineering, but I don’t want anyone to shy away from it, either.
If they have an interest, there should be nothing stopping them from pursuing a career in this really important field!
What was the climate for women in STEM majors during your years as an undergrad at Cornell?
As an undergraduate student in electrical engineering at Cornell University, women were definitely in the minority, but I never felt that there was a hostile or chilly climate. Several of my closest girlfriends at Cornell, who I still keep in touch with today, were engineers, so we took classes together and studied together. My future husband was also an electrical engineer and in almost all my classes. So socially I never felt isolated, and I had such a strong support group that I never felt intimidated by being a minority in my field. Similarly, at graduate school at MIT, I made a few very close women friends and that really helped to keep me socially connected. The only times I have felt any negative climate issues were when I was a graduate student and would attend conferences in my field. There were SO few women, and I hadn’t yet met people in my field, so I really felt out of place. That is one of the reasons I started a group (with a colleague and friend of mine, Tracy Camp) called Networking Networking Women (N^2 Women) that aims to connect women who attend the same conferences to avoid that feeling of isolation.
Cornell had a very active Society of Women Engineers (SWE) group but, unfortunately, I never got involved. At MIT, my department (EECS) created a Women in EECS group that I was involved with, and this was a great way to connect with other women in my department.
What differences do you see between then and now in terms of women in STEM?
Unfortunately, I don’t think there have been huge gains in the numbers of women in many STEM fields, such as electrical engineering and computer science. However, I do think there are more resources available for women, in terms of groups, mentors, online and in-person networking opportunities, professional development, and a recognition that it is important to make our field as welcoming to all as we can. I still think this is an exciting field to enter, with endless possibilities for how one can change the world and make a real impact on society. So I think we need to keep doing what we can to encourage all students to consider whether their passions and skills can be applied to an exciting and impactful career in engineering and computer science.
Anything but Basic:
Trailblazing Women in STEM
Even though women are underrepresented in engineering, science, technology and mathematics, the climate is far from what it was when the fields were emerging. It wasn't until after World War II that women were able to beat what seemed like impossible odds to find employment. However, there were early pioneers as far back as the mid-19th century who made significant contributions to STEM.
Ada Lovelace(1815-1852) is considered the founder of scientific computing. In the mid-19th century, the mathematics pioneer spent nine months translating a French memoir for friend Charles Babbage, a mathematics professor at Cambridge. Babbage was the inventor of the Difference Engine, an elaborate counting machine. He wanted the memoir translated because it covered the Analytical Engine. Although both Lovelace and Babbage understood the significance of the Analytical Engine, Lovelace also saw its potential to be what we would now call a general-purpose computer.
Rosalind Elsie Frankilin(1920-1958) was born in London, England. She earned a PhD in physical chemistry from Cambridge University, and applied her education in crystallography and X-ray diffraction to DNA fibers. After taking a photograph that provided key insights into DNA structure, other scientists used it as the basis for their DNA model and took credit
Sally Ride(1951-2012) was the first female astronaut in space. She held a master's degree and doctorate in physics from Stanford University. One of six women out of more than 8,000 applicants to be hired after responding to a NASA recruiting ad, Ride was a mission specialist on the STS-7 space shuttle mission during which she worked the robotic arm to help release satellites into space in 1983. She flew on the space shuttle again in 1984 on the STS 41-G mission. After retiring from NASA she became a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute. Her strong belief in STEM education for women led to the founding of the Sally Ride Space Academy, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering STEM education.
Meet the Expert
Molly LarkinMolly Larkin, a former classroom teacher in New York, taught engineering and science to middle and high school girls before moving on to community management roles with companies like Techbridge and Zipfian Academy. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Cognitive Science program and also holds a master’s in teaching.
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